Objectives: Dynamic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allows visualization of the synovial membrane and measurement of synovitis within the joint. A cohort of patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were studied using MRI of the dominant wrist and clinical assessments. Associations between synovitis and the shared epitope genotype (SE) were looked for and synovitis as a predictor of joint erosion was examined.
Methods: Gadolinium-enhanced MRI scans of the dominant wrist were performed in 42 early RA patients at baseline (median disease duration = 4 months) and after 1 yr. Images were obtained at 42-s intervals over the first 6 min after gadolinium-diethylenetriamine pentaacetic acid injection using six cuts in the coronal plane, 2 mm apart. The site of maximal synovial enhancement was selected as the region of interest (ROI). The rate of enhancement (E-rate) was calculated and compared with synovitis scores from static MRI scans, clinical disease activity scores and HLA-DRB1*04/01 genotyping [sequence-specific primer polymerase chain reaction (SSP-PCR) and DNA sequencing].
Results: Reproducibility of the E-rate measurement was assessed by re-evaluating 10 randomly selected scans in a blinded fashion. Intra-observer reliability was high with an intraclass correlation coefficient of 0.91, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.65-0.97. The E-rate correlated strongly at baseline with the maximum level of synovial enhancement (E-max) (r = 0.88, P < 0.0001) and the static MRI synovitis score (r = 0.52, P = 0.0004). There was also a weaker but significant correlation between E-rate and the pain score (r = 0.29, P = 0.04). The E-rate fell from baseline to 1 yr (P = 0.02) concordant with clinical improvement after treatment with standard therapies. E-rate scores were higher in SE+ than SE - patients (F(1,25) = 5.19, P = 0.03) and were predictive of MRI erosions at 1 yr [chi-square = 5.0 (1 d.f.), P = 0.03]. The baseline C-reactive protein (CRP) was also predictive of MRI erosions at 1 yr to a similar degree [chi-square = 4.7 (1 d.f. ), P = 0.03] but the mean static synovitis score at baseline was the strongest predictor [chi-square = 9.2 (1 d.f.), P = 0.003].
Conclusions: These results show that dynamic MRI can be used to score synovitis objectively in early RA patients. Synovitis was greater in SE+ patients, suggesting an early genetic influence on joint inflammation, and was predictive for the development of erosions at 1 yr.