MR diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) was used to analyze the microstructural properties of articular cartilage. Human patellar cartilage-on-bone samples were imaged at 9.4T using a diffusion-weighted SE sequence (12 gradient directions, resolution = 39 x 78 x 1500 microm(3)). Voxel-based maps of the mean diffusivity, fractional anisotropy (FA), and eigenvectors were calculated. The mean diffusivity decreased from the surface (1.45 x 10(-3) mm(2)/s) to the tide mark (0.68 x 10(-3) mm(2)/s). The FA was low (0.04-0.28) and had local maxima near the surface and in the portion of the cartilage corresponding to the radial layer. The eigenvector corresponding to the largest eigenvalue showed a distinct zonal pattern, being oriented tangentially and radially in the upper and lower portions of the cartilage, respectively. The findings correspond to current scanning electron microscopy (SEM) data on the zonal architecture of cartilage. The eigenvector maps appear to reflect the alignment of the collagenous fibers in cartilage. In view of current efforts to develop and evaluate structure-modifying therapeutic approaches in osteoarthritis (OA), DTI may offer a tool to assess the structural properties of cartilage.
Copyright 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.