To investigate whether normal thickness cartilage in osteoarthritic knees demonstrate depletion of proteoglycan or collagen content compared to healthy knees.
Magnetic resonance (MR) images were acquired from 5 subjects scheduled for total knee arthroplasty (TKA) (mean age 70 years) and 20 young healthy control subjects without knee pain (mean age 28.9 years). MR images of T1ρ mapping, T2 mapping, and fat suppressed proton-density weighted sequences were obtained. Following TKA each condyle was divided into 4 parts (distal medial, posterior medial, distal lateral, posterior lateral) for cartilage analysis. Twenty specimens (bone and cartilage blocks) were examined. For each joint, the degree and extent of cartilage destruction was determined using the Osteoarthritis Research Society International cartilage histopathology assessment system. In magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) analysis, 2 readers performed cartilage segmentation for T1ρ/T2 values and cartilage thickness measurement.
Eleven areas in MRI including normal or near normal cartilage thickness were selected. The corresponding histopathological sections demonstrated mild to moderate osteoarthritis (OA). There was no significant difference in cartilage thickness in MRI between control and advanced OA samples [medial distal condyle,P= 0.461; medial posterior condyle (MPC),P= 0.352; lateral distal condyle,P= 0.654; lateral posterior condyle,P= 0.550], suggesting arthritic specimens were morphologically similar to normal or early staged degenerative cartilage. Cartilage T2 and T1ρ values from the MPC were significantly higher among the patients with advanced OA (P= 0.043). For remaining condylar samples there was no statistical difference in T2 and T1ρ values between cases and controls but there was a trend towards higher values in advanced OA patients.
Though cartilage is morphologically normal or near normal, degenerative changes exist in advanced OA patients. These changes can be detected with T2 and T1ρ MRI techniques.