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Does alendronate disturb the healing process of posterior lumbar interbody fusion? A prospective randomized trial.

Author(s): Nagahama K, Kanayama M, Togawa D, Hashimoto T, Minami A

Affiliation(s): Spine Center, Hakodate Central General Hospital, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-8585, Japan. mkanayama@aol.com

Publication date & source: 2011-04, J Neurosurg Spine., 14(4):500-7. Epub 2011 Jan 28.

Publication type: Randomized Controlled Trial

OBJECT: Bisphosphonate medications are widely used for the treatment of osteoporosis, but they might disturb the healing process of spinal fusion. The object of this prospective randomized controlled study was to evaluate the effect of bisphosphonate medication on spinal fusion through radiographic, clinical, and biological assessments. METHODS: A total of 40 patients with osteoporosis who were candidates for single-level posterior lumbar interbody fusion were randomly assigned to the alendronate group (alendronate sodium 35 mg/week) or the control group (vitamin D, alfacalcidol 1 mug/day). Pedicle screw fixation and carbon polyetheretherketone cages were used for all the patients. Bone graft material was prepared as a mixture of local bone and beta-tricalcium phosphate in a ratio of 2:1. Functional radiography and CT scans were used to evaluate fusion status and cage subsidence. The incidence of vertebral compression fractures (VCFs) occurring after surgery (subsequent VCFs) was assessed by means of MR imaging. Bridging bone formation was graded into 3 categories: Grade A (bridging bone through bilateral cages), Grade B (bridging bone through a unilateral cage), or Grade C (incomplete bony bridging). A solid fusion was defined as less than 5 degrees of angular motion in flexion-extension radiographs and the presence of bridging bone through the cage (Grade A or B). Clinical outcome was evaluated by means of the Oswestry Disability Index. Bone metabolic markers (serum bone alkaline phosphatase, serum and urine Type I collagen cross-linked N-telopeptides) were measured to investigate the biological effects of alendronate on spinal fusion. RESULTS: Bridging bone formation (Grade A or B) was more frequently observed in the alendronate group at all postoperative assessment periods. At 1-year postoperative follow-up, a solid fusion was achieved in 95% of the patients in the alendronate group and 65% of those in the control group. Cage subsidence (> 2 mm) was observed in 5% of the alendronate group and 29% of the control group. No vertebral fractures were observed in the alendronate group, whereas 24% of patients in the control group showed subsequent VCFs. There was no statistically significant between-groups difference in clinical outcomes, but poor clinical results in the control group were associated with pseudarthrosis and subsequent VCFs. Biochemical analysis of bone turnover demonstrated that alendronate inhibited bone resorption from the early phase of the fusion process and also suppressed bone formation after 6 months postoperatively. CONCLUSIONS: Favorable mechanical circumstances provided by alendronate overcame its detrimental biological effect on the healing process of spinal fusion. The authors recommend that osteoporosis patients undergoing spinal fusion take bisphosphonates throughout the postoperative period.

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