Objective: To characterize the rabbit anterior cruciate ligament transection (ACLT) model of osteoarthritis (OA) at various stages of disease using high-resolution 3-D medical imaging systems, which, in turn, will facilitate future longitudinal studies evaluating disease progression and response to therapy in live animals.
Methods: Degenerative changes in femorotibial cartilage, volumetric bone mineral density (vBMD), bone volume fraction (BV/TV), and osteophyte volume were characterized ex vivo using 4-T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) at 4, 8, and 12 weeks post-ACLT. These changes were subsequently correlated to macroscopic joint evaluation.
Results: Macroscopic assessment demonstrated progressive cartilage degeneration post-surgery, which was significantly correlated to MRI evaluation (r=0.82, P<0.0001). Linear regression analysis indicated that vBMD and BV/TV are linearly related such that as vBMD increases, BV/TV increases (P<0.0001). Micro-CT revealed bone loss at 4 and 8 weeks post-ACLT, but recovery to control values at 12 weeks post-ACLT. Volumetric BMD was not strongly correlated with macroscopic assessment of articular cartilage degeneration (r=-0.35, P<0.0001). Quantitative measurement of osteophyte volume demonstrated a statistically significant difference (with respect to control groups) at both 8 and 12 weeks post-ACLT, but not at 4 weeks post-ACLT.
Conclusions: The rabbit ACLT model of OA demonstrates progressive cartilage degeneration and intermediate bone changes at 4, 8, and 12 weeks post-surgery. Cartilage and bone lesions were characterized ex vivo using 4-T MRI and micro-CT, and MRI assessment of cartilage degeneration was correlated to macroscopic grading.