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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Pathogenesis of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis in girls - a double neuro-osseous theory involving disharmony between two nervous systems, somatic and autonomic expressed in the spine and trunk: possible dependency on sympathetic nervous system and hormones with implications for medical therapy

R Geoffrey Burwell1*, Ranjit K Aujla1, Michael P Grevitt1, Peter H Dangerfield2*, Alan Moulton3, Tabitha L Randell4 and Susan I Anderson5

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Spinal Studies and Surgery, Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, Queen's Medical Centre Campus, Nottingham, UK

2 School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK

3 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, King's Mill Hospital, Mansfield, UK

4 Department of Child Health, Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, Queen's Medical Centre Campus, Nottingham, UK

5 School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

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Scoliosis 2009, 4:24  doi:10.1186/1748-7161-4-24

Published: 31 October 2009

Abstract

Anthropometric data from three groups of adolescent girls - preoperative adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), screened for scoliosis and normals were analysed by comparing skeletal data between higher and lower body mass index subsets. Unexpected findings for each of skeletal maturation, asymmetries and overgrowth are not explained by prevailing theories of AIS pathogenesis. A speculative pathogenetic theory for girls is formulated after surveying evidence including: (1) the thoracospinal concept for right thoracic AIS in girls; (2) the new neuroskeletal biology relating the sympathetic nervous system to bone formation/resorption and bone growth; (3) white adipose tissue storing triglycerides and the adiposity hormone leptin which functions as satiety hormone and sentinel of energy balance to the hypothalamus for long-term adiposity; and (4) central leptin resistance in obesity and possibly in healthy females. The new theory states that AIS in girls results from developmental disharmony expressed in spine and trunk between autonomic and somatic nervous systems. The autonomic component of this double neuro-osseous theory for AIS pathogenesis in girls involves selectively increased sensitivity of the hypothalamus to circulating leptin (genetically-determined up-regulation possibly involving inhibitory or sensitizing intracellular molecules, such as SOC3, PTP-1B and SH2B1 respectively), with asymmetry as an adverse response (hormesis); this asymmetry is routed bilaterally via the sympathetic nervous system to the growing axial skeleton where it may initiate the scoliosis deformity (leptin-hypothalamic-sympathetic nervous system concept = LHS concept). In some younger preoperative AIS girls, the hypothalamic up-regulation to circulating leptin also involves the somatotropic (growth hormone/IGF) axis which exaggerates the sympathetically-induced asymmetric skeletal effects and contributes to curve progression, a concept with therapeutic implications. In the somatic nervous system, dysfunction of a postural mechanism involving the CNS body schema fails to control, or may induce, the spinal deformity of AIS in girls (escalator concept). Biomechanical factors affecting ribs and/or vertebrae and spinal cord during growth may localize AIS to the thoracic spine and contribute to sagittal spinal shape alterations. The developmental disharmony in spine and trunk is compounded by any osteopenia, biomechanical spinal growth modulation, disc degeneration and platelet calmodulin dysfunction. Methods for testing the theory are outlined. Implications are discussed for neuroendocrine dysfunctions, osteopontin, sympathoactivation, medical therapy, Rett and Prader-Willi syndromes, infantile idiopathic scoliosis, and human evolution. AIS pathogenesis in girls is predicated on two putative normal mechanisms involved in trunk growth, each acquired in evolution and unique to humans.