Objective: Follow up of osteoarthritis (OA) and evaluation of structure modifying OA drugs require longitudinal data on cartilage structure. The aim of this study was to analyse the long term and resegmentation precision of quantitative cartilage analysis with magnetic resonance imaging (qMRI) in vivo, and to relate precision errors to the estimated cartilage loss in OA.
Method: Sagittal MR images of the knee were obtained in 14 individuals, four datasets being acquired in a first imaging session. In 12 subjects, two further datasets were acquired over the next months. Image analysis was performed in the same session for image data obtained under short-term and long-term imaging conditions, and in three different sessions (months apart) for the first data set (resegmentation precision).
Results: Long-term precision errors ranged from 1.4% (total knee) to 3.9% (total femur) for cartilage volume and thickness and were only marginally higher than those under short term conditions. In the medial tibia, the error was 84 mm(3) compared with an estimated loss of >1,200 mm(3) in varus OA. Precision errors for resegmentation were somewhat higher, but considerably smaller than the intersubject variability.
Conclusions: Scanner drift and changes in imaging or patient conditions appear not to represent a critical problem in quantitative cartilage analysis with magnetic resonance imaging (qMRI). In longitudinal studies, image analysis of sequential data should be performed within the same post-processing session. Under these conditions, qMRI promises to be a very powerful method to assess structural change of cartilage in OA.
Copyright 2002 OsteoArthritis Research Society International. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.