The utility of MRI in predicting radiographic erosions in the metatarsophalangeal joints of the rheumatoid foot: a prospective longitudinal cohort study

Arthritis Res Ther. 2009;11(3):R94. doi: 10.1186/ar2737. Epub 2009 Jun 22.


Introduction: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may reveal rheumatoid arthritis (RA) changes in the feet when hands are normal. The purpose of this study was to determine the sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV), and negative predictive value (NPV) of a metatarsophalangeal (MTP) erosion on MRI to predict a subsequent radiographic erosion in the same joint. Similar analyses were performed for bone marrow edema, predicting a subsequent MRI erosion. Descriptive results of other lesions are reported.

Methods: Fifty patients with RA of less than 5 years' duration who were rheumatoid factor-positive and/or anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide-positive were recruited. Patients on anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF) therapy were excluded. Anti-TNF therapy could begin after enrollment. MRI and radiographs of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th MTP joints bilaterally were taken at baseline and at 6, 12, and 24 months. Clinical data were collected.

Results: Fifty patients were recruited; 46 patients had suitable data. Results for MRI erosions predicting subsequent radiographic erosions for 6, 12, and 24 months, respectively, were as follows: sensitivity 0.75, 0.60, 0.75; specificity 0.93, 0.94, 0.94; PPV 0.086, 0.10, 0.17; NPV 0.998, 0.995, 0.995. Results for MRI bone marrow edema predicting MRI erosions at 6 and 12 months, respectively, revealed sensitivity 0.50, 0.67; specificity 0.97, 0.97; PPV 0.25, 0.50; NPV 0.99, 0.99. Synovitis was the most common finding and, when present in isolation, resolved on 67.3% of subsequent studies. MRI erosions persisted on subsequent studies with one exception. Forty-six percent of the cohort was on anti-TNF therapy after study inception.

Conclusions: The PPV of MRI erosions to predict subsequent radiographic erosions was low. Similarly, the PPV of bone marrow edema to predict a later MRI erosion was low. Alternatively, the NPV of the absence of an MRI erosion or bone marrow edema predicts that a later radiographic erosion or MRI erosion will likely not develop. Anti-TNF therapies may have resulted in the lower-than-anticipated PPVs. MRI descriptions of bone edema may represent a more critical time to treat in order to avoid damage, whereas an MRI erosion represents more permanent damage. This study suggests that imaging modalities more sensitive than radiographs are necessary to monitor disease in the biologic era.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnostic imaging*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Metatarsophalangeal Joint / diagnostic imaging*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiography
  • Sensitivity and Specificity