Objective: To assess cartilage glycosaminoglycan content and cartilage thickness in the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints of patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and healthy volunteers.
Methods: After review board approval and informed consent were obtained, 22 subjects were prospectively enrolled (9 patients with early RA [7 women and 2 men with a mean ± SD age of 49 ± 13 years; range 25-68 years] and 13 healthy volunteers [10 women and 3 men with a mean ± SD age of 51 ± 12 years; range 25-66 years). In a total of 44 MCP joints of the index and middle fingers, measurements of cartilage thickness and delayed gadolinium-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of cartilage (dGEMRIC) index (T1 [msec]) were obtained using the variable flip-angle method and a 3T MR scanner. MRIs were evaluated for bone edema, erosions, and synovitis (using the RA MRI Scoring criteria). Student's t-test was used to test the significance of differences between groups.
Results: The mean ± SD dGEMRIC index was 497 ± 86 msec in healthy volunteers and was significantly lower in the early RA group (421 ± 76 msec) (P = 0.042). There was no joint space narrowing seen on standard radiographs. No significant difference was found between cartilage thickness in patients with early RA and that in controls (index finger mean ± SD 1.27 ± 0.23 mm in RA patients versus 1.46 ± 0.34 mm in controls [P = 0.16] and middle finger 1.26 ± 0.23 mm in RA patients versus 0.97 ± 0.47 mm in controls [P = 0.10]). No significant correlation was noted between cartilage thickness and dGEMRIC index (R = 0.36, P = 0.88 in RA patients; R = 0.156, P = 0.445 in controls).
Conclusion: Our findings indicate that cartilage damage is present in the MCP joints of patients with early RA despite the absence of joint space narrowing on standard radiographs and MRI. Cartilage damage in RA can be imaged with dGEMRIC.
Copyright © 2012 by the American College of Rheumatology.