The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament: Reassessing the disease in non-Asian populations


Department of Anthropology, University of Utah

Friday 37, Clinch Concourse Add to calendar

Ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament (OPLL) of the cervical spine has been a disease of interest throughout Asia for over 50 years; however, the literature on the prevalence and presentation of this disease in other populations is sporadic. When studies do appear, the results are often marred by small sample sizes and conclusions that turn out to be anecdotal at best. OPLL is historically accepted to reach its highest prevalence among the Japanese population at 4.3%, while Caucasians have been shown to present with frequencies between 0.05% and 1.7%. Diagnosis of this disease is based on radiographic analysis of clinical patients complaining of spinal and/or neurological symptoms. As a result, diagnosis often occurs only in symptomatic individuals, and only after the disease has reached an extreme state.

In order to better understand the prevalence and presentation of OPLL in non-Asian populations and to consider the potential differences between methods of diagnosis, I analyzed a sample of White and Black males and females from The Terry Collection (n=1051). The results challenge previous assumptions concerning the prevalence of OPLL in non-Asian populations: the sample populations ranged in prevalence from 32% in White females to 67% in Black males, with all males showing a significantly higher prevalence than all females (p<0.00001). Males also presented with a significantly larger maximum area of ossification than females (p=0.00587). While the differences in radiographic and skeletal diagnosis will be discussed as a factor, this new data should provoke a reassessment of how we understand this disease.

This research was made possible in part thanks to funding from the University of Utah Department of Anthropology

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