Objective: The progressive early changes in cartilage and subchondral bone in an experimental model of osteoarthritis (OA) were investigated with high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and microradiography.
Methods: Partial medial meniscectomy was performed in the left knee of 16 rabbits. Four normal and four sham-operated additional rabbits were used as controls. Changes in cartilage and subchondral bone were sequentially assessed after surgery with MRI at 0, 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 weeks, subchondral bone variations quantified postoperatively on microradiographs of sagittal sections at 6 and 10 weeks and the macroscopic alterations graded according to the severity of joint changes.
Results: MRI demonstrated a progressive increase in the articular cartilage thickness in the weight-bearing area of the femur at weeks 4, 6 and 8 vs basal. Tibial cartilage thickness only showed a significant increment at week 6. No significant abnormalities were detected on X-rays in subchondral bone when compared to controls. Macroscopically, 4 weeks after the operation OA rabbits had only slight cartilage discoloration. Cartilage eburnation, pitting, superficial erosions and osteophytes were detected at week 6. These abnormalities were more evident at 8 and 10 weeks after meniscectomy.
Conclusion: The focal increase in cartilage thickness is one of the earliest measurable changes in OA and preceeds subchondral bone remodeling. The measurement of cartilage thickness variations with MRI can be used to follow the course of OA and to evaluate the potential beneficial effect of novel therapies.