Assessment of a rabbit posterolateral spinal fusion using movement between vertebrae: a modification of the palpation exam for quantifying fusions

Sohrab S. Virk, Alex Aurand, Alicia L. Bertone, Hayam Hussein, Mari Kaido, William S. Marras, Safdar N. Khan


Background: Manual palpation of rabbit spine levels has been used to assess fusion status. This method of testing is subject to inter-observer differences in assessment. We attempted to quantify fusion based on the amount of movement between rabbit vertebrae at the level of fusion.
Methods: Rabbits were divided into three groups. The first underwent a sham surgery; the second underwent a unilateral spinal fusion; and the third underwent a bilateral spinal fusion. All groups were sacrificed at either 5- or 10-week post-procedure. Each spine was tested for fusion using standard manual palpation techniques. The spines were also placed on a specially designed apparatus and moved through 10°, 20°, and 30° of extension/flexion.
Results: Out of 10 rabbits, 2 underwent sham surgery, 2 underwent a fusion procedure at L4–L5 and 6 underwent a fusion at L5–L6. We only included rabbits that underwent a L5–L6 fusion surgery. Our apparatus did not always rotate the spine the intended amount with up to 30% error. When rabbits graded as fused were compared to sham rabbits, there was a trend towards reduction in percent of overall measured angle within the fused group as compared to the sham group (8.77% vs. 13.84%, P=0.14).
Conclusions: Our model attempted to quantify the amount of displacement between vertebrae during the manual palpation exam. There is a trend towards reduced measured angle between vertebrae between fused and non-fused spines and no statistically significant difference in overall measured angle between unilaterally and bilaterally fused spines.