Clin J Pain. 2017 (Apr 19) [Epub] ~ FULL TEXT
Julita A. Teodorczyk-Injeyan, PhD, Marion McGregor, PhD, DC,
John J. Triano, DC, PhD, H. Stephen Injeyan, PhD, DC
Graduate Education and Research Programs,
Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Department of Pathology and Microbiology,
Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
BACKGROUND: The involvement of inflammatory components in the pathophysiology of low back pain is poorly understood. It has been suggested that spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) may exert anti-inflammatory effects.
PURPOSE: To determine the involvement of inflammation-associated chemokines (CC series) in the pathogenesis of non-specific low back pain and to evaluate the effect of SMT on that process.
METHODS: Patients presenting with non-radicular, non-specific low back pain (minimum pain score 3 on 10 point visual analogue scale, VAS) were recruited according to stringent inclusion criteria. They were evaluated for appropriateness to treat using a high velocity low amplitude manipulative thrust (HVLT) in the lumbar-lumbosacral region. Blood samples were obtained at baseline and following the administration of a series of 6 HVLTs on alternate days over the period of two weeks. The in vitro levels of CC chemokines (CCL2, CCL3 and CCL4) production and plasma levels of an inflammatory biomarker, soluble E-selectin, were determined at baseline and at the termination of treatments two weeks later.
RESULTS: Compared with asymptomatic controls baseline production of all chemokines was significantly elevated in acute (P=0.004 - <0.0001), and that of CCL2 and CCL4 in chronic LBP patients (P<0.0001). Furthermore, CCL4 production was significantly higher (P<0.0001) in the acute versus chronic LBP group. sE-selectin levels were significantly higher (P=0.003) in chronic but not in acute LBP patients. Following SMT, patient reported outcomes showed significant (P<0.0001) improvements in VAS and ODI scores. This was accompanied by a significant decline in CCL 3 production (P<0.0001) in both groups of patients. Change scores for CCL4 production differed significantly (P<0.0001) only for the acute LBP cohort, and no effect on the production of CCL2 or plasma sE-selectin levels was noted in either group.
CONCLUSION: The production of chemotactic cytokines is significantly and protractedly elevated in LBP patients. Changes in chemokine production levels, which might be related to SMT, differ in the acute and chronic LBP patient cohorts. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License 4.0 (CCBY-NC-ND), where it is permissible to download and share the work provided it is properly cited. The work cannot be changed in any way or used commercially. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0.
From the FULL TEXT Article:
The etiology of non-specific (mechanical) low back pain (LBP) is multifaceted. [1, 2] Acute low back pain is generally considered to be associated with enhanced pain sensitivity of the spinal/paraspinal structures.  The persistence of spinal pain over 12 weeks, normally sufficient for completion of connective tissue healing, suggests that acute spinal pain has become chronic. 
Among nonpharmacological treatments for LBP, the use of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT)
has been widely practiced and its relative effectiveness both for chronic and acute LBP has been
reviewed. [5, 6] While correcting segmental restrictions and biomechanical aberrations may provide a feasible justification for efficacy of spinal manipulation, biological mechanisms associated with this form of therapy remain unclear.  Recent investigations, suggest that SMT may exert antiinflammatory effect(s)  and thereby may impact the integrated network of inflammatory and
immunoregulatory mediators inherent in spinal pain. 
Tissue injury-associated inflammatory responses are accompanied by increased neuronal
excitability and migration of leukocytes to the affected sites. [10, 11] This process is mediated by a gradient of a subfamily of chemotactic cytokines (chemokines) including macrophage chemotactic protein (CCL2), macrophage inflammatory proteins 1α (CCL3) and 1β (CCL4), generated on the surface of endothelial cells. Inflammatory cytokine-activated endothelial cells [12, 13] up-regulate the production of chemokines and vascular adhesion proteins including E-selectin, a potent mediator of leukocyte movement into tissues. 
Chemokines are inducers of inflammation , play a role in communication between inflammatory cells and neurons [15–17], and contribute to pain transmission (18). Studies of the relationship between clinical pain and the production of CC chemokines are limited. [19–22] Levels of inducible CCL2 and CCL3 production have been shown to be significantly increased, alongside the heightened production of inflammatory cytokines, in patients with chronic and recurrent cervical neck pain.  However, potential involvement of chemokines in the pathophysiology of non-specific low back pain has not been examined. Also, to our knowledge, no studies have explored potential association of endothelial adhesion molecules with inflammatory response in spinal pain. Nonetheless, a possible role of E-selectin as a marker of lumbar spine disease has been suggested.  Elevated levels of soluble E-selectin (sE-slectin) production are considered a reliable biomarker of local or systemic inflammatory response.  Secretion of sE- selectin and its accumulation in herniated disc specimens and in human intervertebral disc cultures have been also recently reported.  Thus, elevation of systemic (plasma) levels of sE-selectin could be symptomatic of inflammatory condition(s) involving paraspinal tissues and/or lumbar disc disease.
As part of an on-going study of the role of inflammation in non-specific LBP, the present
investigation was undertaken to assess the production of migratory/nociceptive chemokines, CCL2,
CCL 3 and CCL4, and that of sE-selectin in patients with acute and chronic LBP prior to and following
Subjects of both sexes between the ages 22 and 60, experiencing acute (less than 4 weeks in duration)
or chronic (12 weeks or longer in duration) non-specific low back pain (L1– L5, with or without
sacroiliac (SI) joint involvement) were enrolled into the study through the CMCC outpatient clinics
(Fig.1). A minority of patients were referred from field practitioners. This study was approved by the
Research Ethics Board of the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC) and was registered
with Clinical Trials.gov (#NCT01766141).
Participants were screened for eligibility, according to strict inclusion and exclusion criteria
(see below), by the primary investigator (HSI). If accepted, they were asked to sign the study informed
consent form and complete the CMCC clinic intake forms including an Oswestry Disability Index
(ODI) form and a 10 point visual analogue scale (VAS) for pain. The utility and validity of these
assessment tools has been established. [27, 28] A final decision whether to accept or reject a potential
patient was based on the detailed history and physical findings of the intern/clinician to whom patient
care was assigned. Patients were excluded if they fell outside the age limits of 22–60 years, had a pain
level below 3/10 on VAS, had received any form of manual treatment in the preceding 15 days, had
taken anti-inflammatory medications in the preceding 48 hours, had any type of unresolved known
inflammatory condition (including systemic or musculoskeletal other than the presenting LBP
condition), autoimmune conditions, coagulopathies, infections and neoplastic diseases, were pregnant,
were unwilling to sign the study consent form, or were unwilling/unable to adhere to study schedule.
Finally, patients were instructed to abstain from anti-inflammatory medications throughout the study
period. This request was enforced at each treatment visit.
A cohort of age- and sex-matched healthy asymptomatic subjects, was recruited from the general
population to serve as control group. The same exclusion criteria, including the presence of low back
pain, applied in this recruitment process (Fig.1). Importantly, these subjects did not receive any form
of treatment. The purpose of this cohort was to control for possible changes in outcomes that might
occur naturally in the span of the observation period (two weeks).
Spinal Manipulative therapy (SMT)
Spinal manipulative therapy consisted of a single high velocity low amplitude thrust (HVLT) to the
involved segment in the lumbosacral region. This could be in the form of a spinal push or spinal pull
type adjustment to the lumbar spine, or an SI adjustment.  Six SMT treatments were carried out by
the attending clinicians on alternate days in the span of 2 weeks. The participating clinicians delivered
the treatments according to their findings of segmental restriction in the lumbosacral region on a given
day. While the assessment might indicate involvement of more than one spinal segment, clinicians
were to apply a manipulative thrust to one segment only as indicated by pain or restricted motion upon
palpation. No other treatment modalities were utilized for the duration of the study. The treatment
intervention was designed to explore the effect of a series of single manipulative thrusts rather than
chiropractic treatment as might occur in a typical chiropractic-patient encounter, where treatment dose
and duration are typically longer. 
At the termination of the treatment period all patients were asked to complete the VAS and ODI forms
Asymptomatic subjects participating in the study received no treatments. Upon their return 2 weeks
later, for a second blood withdrawal, subjects were screened to rule out possible development of
excluding factors that would mitigate their participation in the study.
Heparinized samples of peripheral blood (7 ml each) from patients with LBP and controls were
collected twice over the study period by venipuncture from the antecubital fossa area of the arm. The
first sample was obtained prior to any manipulative intervention, the second at their 7th visit (within 48
hr of the last treatment) alongside the second VAS and ODI questionnaires. The second blood
collection from asymptomatic subjects was carried out 2 weeks after the initial one.
All blood samples were transferred to the laboratory and processed within 60 min of collection. Two
ml of each blood sample was centrifuged for 10 min at 4°C for preparation of plasma while the
remainder was used to set up cultures. Aliquoted plasma samples were frozen at –80°C for later studies.
Whole blood (WB) culture system, similar to that described by Yaqoob et al , was used. Briefly,
blood samples were diluted 10–fold with RPMI 1640 (GIBCO, Invitrogen, Grand Island, NY)
supplemented with 5x10-5 mol/L of 2-mercaptoethanol and a commercial solution of L- glutaminpenicillin-streptomycin
(GIBCO, Life Technologies, Burlington, ON).
The production of the studied chemokines was investigated in inducer-activated preparations.
Spontaneous (constitutive) secretion of these mediators could not be assessed because of the limitation
of biological material. To induce the production of CCL2 and CCL4, WB cultures were cultivated for
48 hr at 37° C, in a humidified 5% CO2 incubator, in the presence of lipopolysaccharide (LPS, Sigma–
Aldrich, St. Louis , MO) at a concentration of 1µg/ml and 10 µg/ml of phytohemagglutinin (PHA,
Sigma –Aldrich). The production of CCL3 was examined in cultures activated for 24 hr with LPS
alone. At the conclusion of the incubation period, culture supernatants from each subject were pooled,
centrifuged to remove any contaminating cellular material, aliquoted and frozen at –80° C until further
Determination of CC chemokine and sE-selectin levels
The levels of in vitro production of the CC chemokines were determined by specific enzyme-linked
immunosorbant assays (ELISA) using DuoSet ELISA development system for natural and recombinant
human cytokines, and Quantikine ELISA (R&D Systems, Minneapolis, MN) was used to determine
plasma sE-selectin levels. All quantitative determinations were performed according to the
manufacturer’s recommendations. Each of the studied culture supernatants was tested a minimum of 3
times at 2–4 different dilutions. The absorbance of the color developed following the enzymatic
reaction in the studied samples was measured at λ 540 nm using multichannel spectrophotometer
(Epoch, Bio-Tech, Winooski, VT). Concentrations of the tested mediators were then determined
using Gen5 Data Analysis Software (Bio-Tech).
Detection limits for CCL2 and CCL4 were 15 pg/ml, 10 pg/ml for CCL 3 and 0.25 ng/ml for human sE-selectin.
Data published for TNF alpha levels in chronic neck pain patients versus asymptomatic
controls  were used to calculate a sample size estimate for this study. From Cohen’s table ,
based on a power of 0.8, a two-tailed test with a p value < 0.05 the sample size was estimated to be no
less than 17 per group (Fig 1).
The primary outcomes for this study were established as differences in the production
of mediators a) between patient groups i.e. between acute and chronic LBP and asymptomatic controls
measured at the time of admission into the study (baseline, Time 1); and b) within group differences
between chemokine production at baseline and after completion of SMT treatments for the acute versus
chronic LBP groups and the control group (Time 2).
Flow chart of subject enrolment showing process
of exclusion and inclusion in the low back pain (A)
and control (B) groups.
One-way ANOVA was completed comparing the baseline levels of CCL2, CCL3, CCL4 and sEselectin
production for the asymptomatic control subjects against patients in the acute and chronic pain
groups. All baseline data were tested for normality. Where non-normal distributions were found, data
was transformed and analysis repeated. Where tests for equal variances failed, Kruskal-Wallis tests
were used to confirm results. If statistically significant F values were found using ANOVA, contrasts
between groups were assessed using Scheffe tests.
Difference in scores were then calculated between the baseline and post-intervention or the second
assessment values (Time 2) for the acute and chronic LPB patient groups and asymptomatic controls.
Tests for normality and Barlett’s test for equal variances were used to assess assumptions. As the equal
variances assumptions were not met, Kruskal-Wallis tests were used for all tests of difference in scores
and subsequent contrasts between groups.
A total of 4 one-way ANOVA’s were used, and 4 Kruskal-Wallis analyses were performed (one for
each of the outcome measures). Thus, an adjusted value of p<0.00625 was accepted as significant.
Pre- and post- SMT VAS and ODI values were obtained for observational purposes and for hypothesis
generation and analyzed using a paired t test.
The studies were completed by 19 patients with acute, 23 with chronic LBP and 21 asymptomatic
volunteers (Fig.1). Demographic profiles of LBP patients and participating asymptomatic control
subjects were comparable in terms of age and gender (Table 1). Admission time VAS scores were not
significantly different between the patient groups and decreased significantly (P<0.0001) post-SMT
interventions in both acute and chronic LBP patients (6.3 ±1.6 vs. 2.9±1.8 and 5.1 ±1.7 vs. 2.9±1.6
respectively) (Table 1). At admission, mean ODI scores for the acute and chronic LBP cohorts were
38.6±15.2 and 27.5±8.8, respectively. Following the 2–week treatment period the scores had declined
significantly (P<0.0001) to 14.1±10.5 and 16.5± 9.0, respectively.
Demographic characteristics and measures
of pain and disability of subjects enrolled in the study.
Baseline levels of CC chemokine and sE selectin production
Baseline levels of the studied chemokines were assessed in supernatants from WB cultures
prepared from the LBP patients and asymptomatic controls at the time of their admission into the study
(Time 1). Figures 2–4 (open circles) illustrate the ranges and means of CC–chemokine production in
all study subjects. Post- ANOVA contrasts indicated that, at baseline (Time 1), significant differences
existed in levels of the studied chemokines between LBP patients and asymptomatic controls. Relative
to controls the production of CCL2, CCL3 and CCL4 were significantly augmented (P=0.004,
P<0.0001 and P<0.0001, respectively) in acute LBP patients. In patients with chronic LBP, the
production of CCL2 and CCL4 was also significantly elevated (P< 0.0001, and P<0.0001) while that of
CCL3 trended higher (P=0.008), (Fig. 2–4).
The capacity of CC chemokine production was compared between acute and chronic LBP
cohorts at baseline. The production of CCL4 was significantly higher (P<0.0001) in the acute LBP
group (Fig. 4), while both acute and chronic LBP groups did not differ significantly in baseline levels
of CCL2 (P=0.431) and CCL3 (P=0.422) production.
The plasma content of sE-selectin varied somewhat between the study groups (Fig. 5).
Compared with controls, sE-selectin levels were not significantly different in patients with acute LBP
(P=0.04) but were significantly elevated (P=0.003) in the chronic LBP group. Analysis of the data
excluding the outlier in the chronic LBP group did not affect the significance of these results
Production of CCL2/MCP-1 in whole
blood (WB) cultures from acute and chronic LBP
patients and asymptomatic subjects (Control)
at baseline (Time 1) and after 2 weeks (Time 2)
during which LPB patients received 6 SMT treatments.
WB preparations were activated at initiation with
the combination of LPS/PHA, and culture supernatants
were collected 24hr later. At baseline (Time 1),
statistical significance of differences exists
between control and acute, and control and
chronic LBP patients (P=0.004 and P<0.0001,
respectively; Scheffe’s test).
Production of CCL3/MIP-1? in LPS- stimulated
WB cultures from the studied LBP patients and
asymptomatic subjects (Control). Patient cultures
were established before the initiation of SMT
treatments (baseline, Time 1) and following their
completion (Time 2). Control subjects were studied
within the span of 2 weeks between Time 1 and Time 2.
The figure depicts statistical significance of
differences in: a) the baseline levels (Time 1) of
CCL3 production between control vs. acute LBP
patients (P<0.0001, Scheffe’s test). At baseline,
CCL3 levels trend higher (P= 0.008, Scheffe’s test)
in patients with chronic LBP b) SMT-related changes
in acute and chronic LBP patient groups compared
with changes in asymptomatic subjects at Time 2
Production of CCL4/MIP-1β in LPS/PHA
–activated WB cultures from patients with acute and
chronic LBP and asymptomatic subjects (Control) at
baseline (Time 1) and after 2 weeks during which the
patients received SMT treatments (Time 2). The
statistical significance of differences is apparent
in a) the baseline levels (Time 1) of CCL4 production
between all study groups (P<0.0001, Scheffe’s test) and
b) SMT-related changes (Time 2) in acute LPB group
versus time-related changes in the asymptomatic control
group (P<0.0001, Kruskal-Wallis test). The means of
chemokine production in all study groups are also shown
Plasma levels of soluble E-selectin
(sE-selectin) in samples from the studied LBP patients
and asymptomatic subjects (Control). Samples were
collected prior to (baseline, Time 1) and following spinal
\anipulative therapy treatments (Time 2). Control subjects
were studied 2 weeks apart, between Time 1 and Time 2.
A statistically significant difference (P=0.003; Kruskal-
Wallis test) in the level of sE-selectin was observed
between the control and patients with chronic LBP at
baseline (Time 1) and following SMT (Time 2).The means
of sE-selectin level are shown for each study group
Effect of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) on the production of the studied mediators
Post-treatment levels of the studied mediators were assessed in supernatants from WB cultures
prepared from LBP patients at the termination of the SMT treatment period and from asymptomatic
controls re-tested 2 weeks after Time 1 (i.e. at Time 2). Mean chemokine production declined across
the board in both groups of LBP patients while remaining essentially unchanged in asymptomatic
subjects. (Figs.2–4, closed circles). However, the effect of SMT varied in relation to the controls and
also between the acute and chronic LBP groups. Kruskal-Wallis analysis indicated treatment-related
changes were statistically significant with regard to CCL 3 (χ2 =14.65; P=0.001) and CCL4
(χ2 =31.2; P<0.0001) production. Contrast analysis for changes in CCL3 production indicated a significantly greater change (P<0.0001) for both acute and chronic LBP patients versus the asymptomatic controls (Fig.3). Analysis of contrasts for changes in CCL4 production showed a statistically significant difference (P<0.0001) existed between the acute pain and the control groups but not between the
control and chronic pain group (P=0.022) (Fig.4). Furthermore, SMT-related change scores in CCL4,
but not in CCL3, production differed significantly (P<0.0001) between patients with acute and chronic
Although the mean levels of post-SMT production of CCL2 were reduced markedly (up to 1400 pg/ml)
in both groups of patients, the effect of intervention-related change did not reach statistical significance
(χ2 = 4.63; P=0.099) (Fig.2).
SMT had no significant effect (χ2 = 5.78; P=0.055) on the systemic levels of sE-selectin production, which remained significantly elevated in chronic LBP patients and unchanged in the acute pain group (Fig.5).
To our knowledge, the results of the present study are the first to demonstrate that, compared with
asymptomatic controls, the capacity for the inducible (in vitro) synthesis of the CC-subfamily
chemokines is significantly enhanced in patients presenting with non-specific acute and chronic LBP
(Figs 2–4). Furthermore, we have demonstrated that in vitro production of these mediators differs
between the acute and chronic LBP groups. The baseline production of CCL4 is significantly higher in
the acute compared with the chronic pain group (Fig.4). On the other hand, systemic release of sEselectin, significantly elevated in patients with chronic LBP, only trends higher in the acute pain
group (Fig. 5).
The underlying physiological mechanisms of the aforementioned variability in chemokine
production vis a vis the acute and chronic LBP are certainly complex and cannot be elucidated within
the scope of the present study. It is known, however, that the inducible production of CC chemokines
is differentially regulated by proinflammatory and immunoregulatory cytokines [33–35] and
inflammatory profiles may differ in patients with acute and chronic LBP, a possibility that is currently
under study in our laboratory.  Such differences may, at least partially, contribute to divergence in
chemokine production observed between the groups presenting with acute or chronic LB pain.
SMT-associated changes in the production of chemokines also differed between the studied
groups of LBP patients. The overall decline in the production of the investigated chemokines was
observed in both groups. However, while significantly relevant differences (decline) in the production
of both CCL3 and CCL4 were found for the acute pain patients, SMT exerted a statistically significant
effect only with respect to CCL3 production in patients with chronic LB pain.
Despite a decline in the post-SMT production of the aforementioned chemokines their levels did not
revert to that observed in asymptomatic subjects (Figs. 2–4). Correspondingly, systemic levels of
soluble sE-selectin release were essentially unchanged remaining markedly or significantly higher than
physiological (Fig.5). These findings appear consistent with the lack of complete resolution of
symptoms indicated by the VAS and ODI scores at the termination of the treatment period (Table 1).
The sustained levels of these mediators may suggest that leukocyte inflammatory pathways in SMTreceiving
LBP patients remain activated despite significant decreases in VAS and ODI scores reported
by patients in both study groups. Clearly, the 6 single-SMT regime utilized in this study was
insufficient to resolve any tissue irritation that might be associated with LBP. On the other hand, as
suggested by Bialosky et al. , the molecular mechanism(s) implicated in pain perception might
have been altered by neurophysiological responses triggered within the peripheral and central nervous
system by the force applied through spinal manipulation. Such responses might include modification of
sensitivity or expression of nociceptive receptors within the affected spinal tissues or throughout the
central nervous system (CNS) at the level of spinal cord. 
Chemokine receptor expression is regulated by a combined action of various inflammatory stimuli
including cytokines. [12, 18] The production of inflammatory mediators has been indeed shown to be
up-regulated in patients with cervical spine pain.  Thus, attenuation of their production following
spinal manipulation  may alter expression and/or sensitivity of chemokine receptors in the treated
A correlational study of changes in clinical outcomes (VAS and ODI) in relation to changes in
chemokine levels was beyond the scope of this study. Furthermore, it may be argued that changes in
clinical outcomes reported by patients following SMT treatments might be due to the placebo effect.
Changes in pain perception related to the placebo effect have been reported (39). It is possible
however, that the reduction in pain and disability in SMT-treated patients might be related to a
chemokine controlled shift in the migration of leukocytes releasing pain-inhibiting rather than paininducing
mediators. Selectins and chemotactic cytokines mediate transendothelial migration of
leukocytes producing both hyperalgesic and proalgesic mediators not only in the circulation but also at
the site of inflammation.  Leukocyte production of opioid peptides and anti-inflammatory
cytokines increases during the late phase of inflammatory response.  In contrast to pleiotropic
activity of cytokines, chemokines can act in a targeted fashion on a specific subpopulation of cells.
Quantitative changes within the population of circulating leukocytes in patients reporting with acute or
chronic LBP, if found, might be reflective of differences in the recruitment of pain-inducing
macrophages or T lymphocytes to the affected spinal tissues. [41–43] Accordingly, phenotypic analyses
of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from patients with acute and chronic LBP, prior to and following
SMT treatments are currently underway in our laboratory. Consistent with this approach are the recent
findings by Li et al  of significantly increased levels of CD14/16+ (proinflammatory) peripheral
blood monocytes as well as attenuated secretion of β- endorphin in patients with chronic LBP.
To our knowledge no previous reports exist to evidence the involvement of proinflammatory
and nociceptive chemokines as well as endothelial cell activation in the etiology of low back pain.
Following a short course of SMT, reduction in pain intensity was observed in patients with both acute
and chronic LBP despite reduced, albeit sustained elevation in the production of mediators of pain and
inflammation. It has been accepted that mechanical LBP resolves to a large extent spontaneously
within 6 weeks.  On the other hand, persistence or recurrence of LBP are common in many
patients  even following initial improvement in response to SMT. [5, 6] Protracted activation of
chemokine-mediated inflammatory responses beyond improvements reported in pain and disability, as
observed in the present study, may contribute to the pathophysiology of this syndrome. The present
investigation was limited to 2 weeks and the results gleaned from the study are sufficient only to
suggest an association between SMT treatments and the observed reduction in the production of
inflammatory chemokines. Further studies with long term follow up periods utilizing a parallel LBP
control group receiving standard treatment other than SMT should help explore these observations
We are grateful to Ms Maricelle Dinulos for her assistance in identifying potential participants for the study. We wish to express our appreciation and gratitude to Drs. C. DeGraauw, R. Gringmuth, A. Pulinec and L. Wiltshire for performing the spinal manipulations, and to Dr. A. Teitelbaum for performing phlebotomy. The excellent technical assistance of Ms. Amber Corless is deeply appreciated.
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