Assessment of human disc degeneration and proteoglycan content using T1rho-weighted magnetic resonance imaging

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2006 May 15;31(11):1253-7. doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000217708.54880.51.


Study design: T1rho relaxation was quantified and correlated with intervertebral disc degeneration and proteoglycan content in cadaveric human lumbar spine tissue.

Objective: To show the use of T1rho-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for the assessment of degeneration and proteoglycan content in the human intervertebral disc.

Summary of background data: Loss of proteoglycan in the nucleus pulposus occurs during early degeneration. Conventional MRI techniques cannot detect these early changes in the extracellular matrix content of the disc. T1rho MRI is sensitive to changes in proteoglycan content of articular cartilage and may, therefore, be sensitive to proteoglycan content in the intervertebral disc.

Methods: Intact human cadaveric lumbar spines were imaged on a clinical MR scanner. Average T1rho in the nucleus pulposus was calculated from quantitative T1rho maps. After MRI, the spines were dissected, and proteoglycan content of the nucleus pulposus was measured. Finally, the stage of degeneration was graded using conventional T2 images.

Results: T1rho decreased linearly with increasing degeneration (r = -0.76, P < 0.01) and age (r = -0.76, P < 0.01). Biochemical analysis revealed a strong linear correlation between T1rho and sulfated-glycosaminoglycan content. T1rho was moderately correlated with water content.

Conclusions: Results from this study suggest that T1rho may provide a tool for the diagnosis of early degenerative changes in the disc. T1rho-weighted MRI is a noninvasive technique that may provide higher dynamic range than T2 and does not require a high static field or exogenous contrast agents.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / chemistry
  • Intervertebral Disc / metabolism
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / chemistry
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / metabolism
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Proteoglycans / analysis*
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Spinal Diseases / metabolism
  • Spinal Diseases / pathology*


  • Proteoglycans