Nucleus pulposus

The nucleus pulposus (plural: nuclei pulposi) is the central part of each intervertebral disc.

It is located within the annulus fibrosus and between the vertebral body endplates. It is composed of a thin lattice of collagen fibers (type II) which traverse though hydrophilic glycosaminoglycans (GAGs - chondroitin sulfate, dermatan sulfate and keratan sulfate). The glycosaminoglycans (chains) are covalently attached to a core-protein to form a polypeptide: proteoglycan.

With aging and degeneration the glycosaminoglycans are replaced with fibrocartilage and the collagen type II replaced with type I (same as the annulus fibrosus).

Disc desiccation is not responsible for disc height loss, as the nucleus pulposus volume remains the same with aging, but rather due to annular bulging and end plate bowing. 

  • none: it receives nutrition via diffusion across the vertebral body endplates
  • none: waste passes via diffusion across the vertebral body endplates
  • none
  • high content of water which gives a normal disc its characteristic high T2 signal on MRI
  • generalized loss of high T2 signal in the disc is due to age-related disc desiccation
    • a linear T2 hypointense signal through a disc in a young person may be a normal variant called an "intranuclear cleft", a band of fibrous tissue through the nucleus pulposus
Anatomy: Spine
Share article

Article information

rID: 6112
Section: Anatomy
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: labeled CT
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Figure 2: labeled CT
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Fig 3: annotated MRI
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Fig 4: annotated MRI
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 1: intranuclear cleft - normal variant
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.

     Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

     Thank you for updating your details.