Can biochemical markers serve as surrogates for imaging in knee osteoarthritis?

Arthritis Rheum. 2007 Dec;56(12):4038-47. doi: 10.1002/art.23129.


Objective: Osteoarthritis (OA) is a complex heterogeneous joint disease affecting more than 35 million people worldwide. The current gold standard diagnostic investigation is the plain radiograph, which lacks sensitivity. Biochemical markers have the potential to act as adjunct markers for imaging in the assessment of knee OA. We undertook this study to determine the association between individual biochemical markers and radiographic features, and to establish whether the association is strengthened when selected biochemical markers are combined into a single factor (a theoretical marker).

Methods: Twenty serum and urinary biochemical markers were analyzed in 119 patients with predominantly tibiofemoral knee OA. Pearson's correlation was performed, and corresponding coefficients of determination (R(2)) were calculated to determine the association between biochemical markers and a range of imaging features from radiographs and dual x-ray absorptiometry of the knee. Biochemical markers demonstrating a significant association (P < 0.05) with a specific imaging feature were combined by principal components analysis (PCA). Pearson's correlation was repeated to establish whether the combined panel of biochemical markers showed a stronger association with imaging than the best single marker.

Results: Fourteen biochemical markers showed significant associations with one or more imaging features. By combining specific panels of biochemical markers to form factors, the association of markers with imaging features (R(2)) increased from 11.9% to 22.7% for the Kellgren/Lawrence (K/L) score, from 5.9% to 9.2% for joint space width (JSW), from 6.6% to 10.8% for sclerosis, from 13.5% to 22.6% for osteophytes, and from 12.0% to 14.2% for bone mineral density (BMD). Biochemical markers identifying patients with osteophytes overlapped with those correlated with a high K/L score, while markers of subchondral BMD formed a completely separate group. Biochemical markers of JSW included markers associated with both osteophytes and BMD.

Conclusion: The PCA results suggest that biochemical marker combinations may be more sensitive than individual biochemical markers for reflecting structural damage in patients with knee OA. The differences in biochemical marker profiles associated with osteophytes compared with those associated with subchondral BMD raise the possibility that these 2 processes, commonly seen in bone in knee OA, have underlying biologic differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / metabolism*
  • Bone Density
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / blood*
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / diagnostic imaging
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / urine*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Biomarkers