Spinal curves may be produced in fetal lambs with three surgical techniques. These procedures vary from mere exposure of the costo-vertebral junction of three ribs through a paravertebral incision, to resection of the head and part of the adjacent shaft of three ribs. The fetal age varies from forty-nine to seventy-three days. The degree of curvature present at birth seems to increase in severity with decreasing fetal age at the time of surgery, but the type of surgical procedure does not appear to influence the severity of the curve, suggesting that the mechanical presence of the ribs does not prevent the development of scoliosis in these animals.
Histological studies of the m. longissimus dorsi at the apices of the curves reveal two main types of abnormality in the muscle fibers. Both Type I and Type II fibers were significantly reduced in size in the biopsies taken from the side on which the surgery was performed, and there was marked alteration in the proportion of one fiber type to the other in most biopsies taken from both operated sides when compared with biopsies from unoperated twin animals.
The fetal age and amount of surgical trauma appeared to play no role in the degree of muscle alteration, suggesting that even minimal surgical trauma to the paraspinal region at any fetal age between 49–73 days is sufficient to produce significant muscle fiber abnormality and spinal curvature.
A parallel is drawn between these muscle findings and those in a number of human musculoskeletal diseases, and suggests the possibility of a developmental defect in the pathogenesis of these diseases.