Engineering and Computer Science Faculty Publications

Effect of Serum Nicotine Level on Posterior Spinal Fusion in an In-vivo Rabbit Model

Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

The Spine Journal





First Page


Last Page





Background context

Cigarette smoking has a deleterious effect on spinal fusion. Although some studies have implied that nicotine is primarily responsible for poor fusion outcomes, other studies suggest that nicotine may actually stimulate bone growth. Hence, there may be a dose-dependent effect of nicotine on posterior spinal fusion outcomes.


The purpose of this study was to determine if such a relationship could be shown in an in vivo rabbit model.

Study design/Setting

This is a prospective in vivo animal study.


Twenty-four adult male New Zealand white rabbits were randomly divided into four groups. All groups received a single-level posterolateral, intertransverse process fusion at L5–L6 with autologous iliac crest bone. One group served as controls and only underwent the spine fusion surgery. Three groups received 5.25-, 10.5-, and 21-mg nicotine patches, respectively, for 5 weeks. Serum nicotine levels were recorded for each group. All animals were euthanized 5 weeks postoperatively, and spinal fusions were evaluated radiographically, by manual palpation, and biomechanically. Statistical analysis evaluated the dose response effect of outcomes variables and nicotine dosage. This study was supported by a portion of a $100,000 grant from the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation. Author financial disclosures were completed in accordance with the journal's guidelines; there were no conflicts of interests disclosed that would have led to bias in this work.


The average serum levels of nicotine from the different patches were 7.8±1.9 ng/mL for the 5.25-mg patch group; 99.7±17.7 ng/mL for the 10.5-mg patch group; and 149.1±24.6 ng/mL for the 21-mg patch group. The doses positively correlated with serum concentrations of nicotine (correlation coefficient=0.8410, p<.001). The 5.25-mg group provided the best fusion rate, trabeculation, and stiffness. On the basis of the palpation tests, the fusion rates were control (50%), 5.25 mg (80%), 10.5 mg (50%), and 21 mg (42.8%). Radiographic assessment of trabeculation and bone incorporation and biomechanical analysis of bending stiffness ratio were also greatest in the 5.25-mg group. Radiographic evaluation showed a significant (p=.0446) quadratic effect of nicotine dose on spinal fusion.


The effects of nicotine on spinal fusion are complex, may be dose dependent, and may not always be detrimental. The uniformly negative effects of smoking reported in patients undergoing spinal fusion may possibly be attributed to the other components of cigarette smoke.


Nicotine, bone healing, spinal fusion, smoking, pseudarthrosis, lumbar fusion