The effect of surgically implanted metallic bullet fragments on the intervertebral disc using a canine model☆

Nathaniel L. Tindel, Mitchell F. Reiter, Wayne B. Cohen-Levy, Brian Zafonte, Kresimir Banovac, Frank J. Eismont

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: To characterize the gross, histologic, and systemic changes caused by implantation of metal fragments commonly used in commercial bullets into the intervertebral disc. BACKGROUND CONTEXT: Long-term complications of retained bullet fragments in the spine have been documented in the literature; however, the impact of different metal projectiles on the intervertebral disc has not been described. This study was performed to assess the local effects of the metallic bullet fragments on the intervertebral disc and their systemic effects regarding metal ion concentrations in serum and solid organs. STUDY DESIGN: Animal Model Study. METHODS: Funding for this project was provided by the Cervical Spine Research Society in the amount of $10,000. Copper, lead, and aluminum alloys from commercially available bullets were surgically implanted into sequential intervertebral discs in the lumbar spine of six canines. Kirschner wire implantation and a sham operation were performed as controls. Radiographs were performed to confirm the location of the bullets. Animals were sacrificed at 4, 6, and 9 months postimplantation. Whole blood, plasma, cerebrospinal fluid, kidney tissue, and liver tissue samples were analyzed for copper and lead concentrations. Histologic and gross samples were examined at the time of sacrifice. RESULTS: Significant tissue reactions were noted in the discs exposed to copper and lead. Copper resulted in significantly more severe disc degeneration than either the lead or aluminum alloy. In the short interval follow-up of this study, no statistically significant trend was observed in whole blood, plasma, cerebrospinal fluid, and tissue levels. CONCLUSION: This study demonstrates that the canine intervertebral disc is differentially susceptible to metallic fragments depending on the composition. Trends were noted for increasing levels of lead and copper in liver tissue samples although statistical significance could not be reached due to short time interval and small sample size. The metallic composition of retained fragments can be a determining factor in deciding on surgical intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)755-761
Number of pages7
JournalSpine Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Gunshot wound
  • Intervertebral disc
  • Lead
  • Lead toxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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