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Structural and micro-anatomical changes in vertebrae associated with idiopathic-type spinal curvature in the curveback guppy model

Kristen F Gorman1*, Gregory R Handrigan2, Ge Jin1, Rob Wallis1 and Felix Breden1

  • * Corresponding author: Kristen F Gorman

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

2 Department of Oral Health Sciences, Faculty of Dentistry, Life Sciences Institute, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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Scoliosis 2010, 5:10  doi:10.1186/1748-7161-5-10

Published: 7 June 2010



The curveback lineage of guppy is characterized by heritable idiopathic-type spinal curvature that develops during growth. Prior work has revealed several important developmental similarities to the human idiopathic scoliosis (IS) syndrome. In this study we investigate structural and histological aspects of the vertebrae that are associated with spinal curvature in the curveback guppy and test for sexual dimorphism that might explain a female bias for severe curve magnitudes in the population.


Vertebrae were studied from whole-mount skeletal specimens of curved and non-curved adult males and females. A series of ratios were used to characterize structural aspects of each vertebra. A three-way analysis of variance tested for effects of sex, curvature, vertebral position along the spine, and all 2-way interactions (i.e., sex and curvature, sex and vertebra position, and vertebra position and curvature). Histological analyses were used to characterize micro-architectural changes in affected vertebrae and the intervertebral region.


In curveback, vertebrae that are associated with curvature demonstrate asymmetric shape distortion, migration of the intervertebral ligament, and vertebral thickening on the concave side of curvature. There is sexual dimorphism among curved individuals such that for several vertebrae, females have more slender vertebrae than do males. Also, in the region of the spine where lordosis typically occurs, curved and non-curved females have a reduced width at the middle of their vertebrae, relative to males.


Based on similarities to human spinal curvatures and to animals with induced curves, the concave-convex biases described in the guppy suggest that there is a mechanical component to curve pathogenesis in curveback. Because idiopathic-type curvature in curveback is primarily a sagittal deformity, it is structurally more similar to Scheuermann kyphosis than IS. Anatomical differences between teleosts and humans make direct biomechanical comparisons difficult. However, study of basic biological systems involved in idiopathic-type spinal curvature in curveback may provide insight into the relationship between a predisposing aetiology, growth, and biomechanics. Further work is needed to clarify whether observed sex differences in vertebral characteristics are related to the female bias for severe curves that is observed in the population.