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Radiol Med. 1998 Sep;96(3):185-9.

[Magnetic resonance imaging of seronegative sacroiliitis].

[Article in Italian]

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Istituto di Radiologia Pietro Cignolini, Policlinico Universitario P. Giaccone, Palermo.



The inflammatory involvement of the sacroiliac joint is frequent during seronegative spondylarthritis. The clinical diagnosis of sacroiliitis may be very difficult, especially in the early stage, because joint motion cannot be assessed directly and the clinical picture is very similar to that of lumbar pain. Conventional radiography is negative as long as the structural change in the joint is limited to the synovial membrane and the cartilage (early stage). Computed Tomography (CT) also has many drawbacks, and thus the changes can be shown only when chondritis and enthesitis have already damaged the bone. The disease onset is usually preceded by a long latency; early diagnosis is needed for a proper and timely treatment, which can be made only with a highly sensitive and specific technique. We investigated the diagnostic accuracy of MRI in the early detection of sacroiliitis during seronegative spondylarthritis.


Forty patients with suspected sacroiliitis and negative radiographic findings were submitted to MRI; thirty-seven of them were HLA B27 positive. MRI was performed with a .5 T superconducting unit; T1-weighted SE, T2-weighted FSE, T2* GE, and STIR images were acquired on the oblique coronal plane parallel to the anterior sacrum. Ten asymptomatic volunteers were also examined as a control group.


An irregular sacral border and marrow changes at the insertion of the sacroiliac ligaments were seen in 3/10 asymptomatic volunteers. MRI was negative in 7/40 patients, while the synovial compartment was replaced by some tissue with low signal intensity of T1 and high signal on T2 in the other 33 patients; this finding was referred to synovial pannus. Persisting low-signal foci were seen in the synovial compartment in 16/33 patients, which were referred to spared cartilage. High-signal regions were depicted at the bone periphery in 9/33 patients, which areas were consistent with bone erosion; the subchondral bone was markedly hypointense in 5 of these patients, indicating sclerosis. Finally, diffuse high signal intensity was found in the bone marrow in 3/33 patients and referred to infectious sacroiliitis.


MRI appears the method of choice for the early detection of seronegative sacroiliitis because it can show the early changes in cartilage and subchondral bone, filling the gap between the onset of symptoms and radiographic evidence. Moreover, MRI uses no ionizing radiations and makes therefore a precious tool for the diagnosis and follow-up of young patients, hopefully decreasing the use of CT which however provides better detailing of bone and bone degeneration.

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