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PLoS One. 2014 Feb 3;9(2):e87856. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0087856. eCollection 2014.

Quantitative T2 magnetic resonance imaging compared to morphological grading of the early cervical intervertebral disc degeneration: an evaluation approach in asymptomatic young adults.

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  • 1The Third School of Clinical Medicine, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China ; Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Navy General Hospital, Beijing, China.
  • 2Department of Radiology, Navy General Hospital, Beijing, China.
  • 3Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Navy General Hospital, Beijing, China.



The objective of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of quantitative T2 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for quantifying early cervical intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration in asymptomatic young adults by correlating the T2 value with Pfirrmann grade, sex, and anatomic level.


Seventy asymptomatic young subjects (34 men and 36 women; mean age, 22.80±2.11 yr; range, 18-25 years) underwent 3.0-T MRI to obtain morphological data (one T1-fast spin echo (FSE) and three-plane T2-FSE, used to assign a Pfirrmann grade (I-V)) and for T2 mapping (multi-echo spin echo). T2 values in the nucleus pulposus (NP, n = 350) and anulus fibrosus (AF, n = 700) were obtained. Differences in T2 values between sexes and anatomic level were evaluated, and linear correlation analysis of T2 values versus degenerative grade was conducted.


Cervical IVDs of healthy young adults were commonly determined to be at Pfirrmann grades I and II. T2 values of NPs were significantly higher than those of AF at all anatomic levels (P<0.000). The NP, anterior AF and posterior AF values did not differ significantly between genders at the same anatomic level (P>0.05). T2 values decreased linearly with degenerative grade. Linear correlation analysis revealed a strong negative association between the Pfirrmann grade and the T2 values of the NP (P = 0.000) but not the T2 values of the AF (P = 0.854). However, non-degenerated discs (Pfirrmann grades I and II) showed a wide range of T2 relaxation time. T2 values according to disc degeneration level classification were as follows: grade I (>62.03 ms), grade II (54.60-62.03 ms), grade III (<54.60 ms).


T2 quantitation provides a more sensitive and robust approach for detecting and characterizing the early stage of cervical IVD degeneration and to create a reliable quantitative in healthy young adults.

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