Objective: To introduce dynamic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as an indicator of inflammatory activity in the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or early unclassified polyarthritis, and to compare the results with a healthy control group.
Materials and methods: We examined 42 RA and 23 early unclassified polyarthritis patients, and 12 healthy controls in a cross-sectional study. Dynamic MRI (repeated FLASH-MR images after injection of a contrast agent) was performed through the 2nd to the 5th MCP joint. Two methods for identification of the enhancing synovial membrane were compared: 1) outlining of enhancing synovial membrane on subtraction images and 2) automated recognition by principal component analysis (PCA). The early enhancement (EE) rate was calculated on the basis of the first method.
Results: Method 1) and 2) were closely associated (P<0.00001). From the healthy control group, an upper limit (mean+2SD) of normal enhancement was established for the 2nd to 5th MCP joints, which served to identify abnormal EE rates in the corresponding joints of patients. The patients had higher EE rates in the 2nd to 5th MCP joints than had the healthy controls (P<0.01). There were no significant differences between the two patient groups (P>0.09).
Conclusion: PCA seems to be a promising method for automated identification of enhancing tissue. EE rates of the finger joints may be useful in the assessment of the inflammatory activity in the joints of patients with RA and early unclassified polyarthritis and may reflect other aspects of disease activity than clinical evaluation.