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The vertebral body growth plate in scoliosis: a primary disturbance of growth?

Gregory Day1*, Kieran Frawley2, Gael Phillips3, I Bruce McPhee1, Robert Labrom2, Geoffrey Askin4 and Peter Mueller2

Author Affiliations

1 University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

2 Royal Children's Hospital, Queensland, Australia

3 Queensland Health Pathology Service, Herston, Australia

4 Mater Children's Hospital, Brisbane, Australia

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Scoliosis 2008, 3:3  doi:10.1186/1748-7161-3-3

Published: 26 January 2008


Study Design and Aims

This was an observational pilot study of the vertebral body growth plates in scoliosis involving high-resolution coronal plane magnetic resonance (MR) imaging and histological examination. One aim of this study was to determine whether vertebral body growth plates in scoliosis demonstrated abnormalities on MR imaging. A second aim was to determine if a relationship existed between MR and histological abnormalities in these vertebral body growth plates.


MR imaging sequences of 18 patients demonstrated the vertebral body growth plates well enough to detect gross abnormalities/deficient areas/zones. Histological examination of ten vertebral body growth plates removed during routine scoliosis surgery was performed. Observational histological comparison with MR images was possible in four cases.


Four of the 18 MR images demonstrated spines with normal curvature and normal vertebral body growth plates. In 13 scoliotic spines, convex and concave side growth plate deficiencies were observed most frequently at or near the apex of the curve. One MR image demonstrated a 55° kyphosis and no convex or concave side deficiencies. The degree of vertebral body wedging was independent of the presence of vertebral body growth plate deficiency. Histological abnormalities of the vertebral body growth plates were demonstrated in four with MR imaging abnormalities.


This study demonstrated MR image abnormalities of scoliotic vertebral body growth plates compared to controls. A qualitative relationship was demonstrated between MR imaging and histological abnormalities. The finding that vertebral body growth plate deficiencies occurred both on the convex and concave sides of the spine, closest to the apical vertebra of the scoliosis curve, implied that they are less likely to be the result of adaptive changes to the physical forces involved in the scoliotic deformity. One explanation is that they represent a primary disturbance of growth.