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Radiology. 2016 Oct;281(1):158-67. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2016152308. Epub 2016 May 2.

Can Signal Abnormalities Detected with MR Imaging in Knee Articular Cartilage Be Used to Predict Development of Morphologic Cartilage Defects? 48-Month Data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative.

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From the Departments of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging (B.J.S., A.S.G., J.M.W., T.M.L.) and Epidemiology and Biostatistics (M.C.N., C.E.M.), University of California, San Francisco, 185 Berry St, Suite 350, San Francisco, CA 94107.


Purpose To determine the incidence with which morphologic articular cartilage defects develop over 48 months in cartilage with signal abnormalities at baseline magnetic resonance (MR) imaging in comparison with the incidence in articular cartilage without signal abnormalities at baseline. Materials and Methods The institutional review boards of all participating centers approved this HIPAA-compliant study. Right knees of 90 subjects from the Osteoarthritis Initiative (mean age, 55 years ± 8 [standard deviation]; 51% women) with cartilage signal abnormalities but without morphologic cartilage defects at 3.0-T MR imaging and without radiographic osteoarthritis (Kellgren-Lawrence score, 0-1) were frequency matched for age, sex, Kellgren-Lawrence score, and body mass index with right knees in 90 subjects without any signal abnormalities or morphologic defects in the articular cartilage (mean age, 54 years ± 5; 51% women). Individual signal abnormalities (n = 126) on intermediate-weighted fast spin-echo MR images were categorized into four subgrades: subgrade A, hypointense; subgrade B, inhomogeneous; subgrade C, hyperintense; and subgrade D, hyperintense with swelling. The development of morphologic articular cartilage defects (Whole-Organ MR Imaging Score ≥2) at 48 months was analyzed on a compartment level and was compared between groups by using generalized estimating equation logistic regression models. Results Cartilage signal abnormalities were more frequent in the patellofemoral joint than in the tibiofemoral joint (59.5% vs 39.5%). Subgrade A was seen more frequently than were subgrades C and D (36% vs 22%). Incidence of morphologic cartilage defects at 48 months was 57% in cartilage with baseline signal abnormalities, while only 4% of compartments without baseline signal abnormalities developed morphologic defects at 48 months (all compartments combined and each compartment separately, P < .01). The development of morphologic defects was not significantly more likely in any of the subgrades (P = .98) and was significantly associated with progression of bone marrow abnormalities (P = .002). Conclusion Knee cartilage signal abnormalities detected with MR imaging are precursors of morphologic defects with osteoarthritis and may serve as imaging biomarkers with which to assess risk for cartilage degeneration. (©) RSNA, 2016.

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