Objective: To evaluate the synovial membrane volume, determined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), as a marker of joint disease activity and a predictor of progressive joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: Twenty-six patients with RA, randomized to receive disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) therapy alone (11 patients) or DMARDs in combination with oral prednisolone (15 patients), were followed up for 1 year with contrast-enhanced MRI of the dominant wrist (months 0, 3, 6, and 12), conventional radiography (months 0 and 12), and clinical and biochemical examinations. Bone erosion (by MRI and radiography) and synovial membrane volumes (by MRI) were assessed.
Results: Significant synovial membrane volume reductions were observed after 3 and 6 months in the DMARD + prednisolone group, and after 6 and 12 months in the DMARD-alone group (P < 0.01-0.02, by Wilcoxon-Pratt analysis). The rate of erosive progression on MRI was highly correlated with baseline scores and, particularly, with area under the curve (AUC) values of synovial membrane volume (Spearman's sigma = 0.69, P < 0.001), but not with baseline or AUC values of local or global clinical or biochemical parameters, or with prednisolone treatment. In none of 5 wrists with baseline volumes <5 cm3, but in 8 of 10 wrists with baseline volumes > or =10 cm3, erosive progression was found by MRI and/or radiography, indicating a predictive value of synovial membrane volumes. MRI was more sensitive than radiography for the detection of progressive bone destruction (22 versus 12 new bone erosions).
Conclusion: MRI-determined synovial membrane volumes are closely related to the rate of progressive joint destruction. Quantitative MRI assessment of synovitis may prove valuable as a marker of joint disease activity and a predictor of progressive joint destruction in RA.