Magnetic resonance imaging-based semiquantitative and quantitative assessment in osteoarthritis

Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2009 Aug;35(3):521-55. doi: 10.1016/j.rdc.2009.08.006.


Whole organ magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-based semiquantitative (SQ) assessment of knee osteoarthritis (OA), based on reliable scoring methods and expert reading, has become a powerful research tool in OA. SQ morphologic scoring has been applied to large observational cross-sectional and longitudinal epidemiologic studies as well as interventional clinical trials. SQ whole organ scoring analyzes all joint structures that are potentially relevant as surrogate outcome measures of OA and potential disease modification, including cartilage, subchondral bone, osteophytes, intra- and periarticular ligaments, menisci, synovial lining, cysts, and bursae. Resources needed for SQ scoring rely on the MRI protocol, image quality, experience of the expert readers, method of documentation, and the individual scoring system that will be applied. The first part of this article discusses the different available OA whole organ scoring systems, focusing on MRI of the knee, and also reviews alternative approaches. Rheumatologists are made aware of artifacts and differential diagnoses when applying any of the SQ scoring systems. The second part focuses on quantitative approaches in OA, particularly measurement of (subregional) cartilage loss. This approach allows one to determine minute changes that occur relatively homogeneously across cartilage structures and that are not apparent to the naked eye. To this end, the cartilage surfaces need to be segmented by trained users using specialized software. Measurements of knee cartilage loss based on water-excitation spoiled gradient recalled echo acquisition in the steady state, fast low-angle shot, or double-echo steady-state imaging sequences reported a 1% to 2% decrease in cartilage thickness annually, and a high degree of spatial heterogeneity of cartilage thickness changes in femorotibial subregions between subjects. Risk factors identified by quantitative measurement technology included a high body mass index, meniscal extrusion and meniscal tears, knee malalignment, advanced radiographic OA grade, bone marrow alterations, and focal cartilage lesions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / epidemiology*
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / pathology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index*