Introduction: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is increasingly being used in clinical trials of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) because of its superiority over x-ray radiography (XR) in detecting and monitoring change in bone erosion, osteitis and synovitis. However, in contrast to XR, the MRI scoring method that was used in most clinical trials did not include cartilage loss. This limitation has been an obstacle to accepting MRI as a potential alternative to XR in clinical trials. Cross-sectional studies have shown MRI to be sensitive for cartilage loss in the hands and wrist; although, longitudinal sensitivity to change has not yet been confirmed. In this study we examined the ability of MRI to monitor change in cartilage loss in patients with RA in a multi-site clinical trial setting.
Methods: Thirty-one active RA patients from a clinical trial (IMPRESS) who were randomized equally into treatment with either rituximab + methotrexate or placebo + methotrexate had MRI of the dominant hand/wrist at baseline, 12 weeks and 24 weeks at 3 clinical sites in the US. Twenty-seven of these patients also had XR of both hands/wrists and both feet at baseline and 24 weeks. One radiologist scored all XR images using the van der Heijde-modified Sharp method blinded to visit order. The same radiologist scored MR images for cartilage loss using a previously validated 9-point scale, and bone erosion using the Outcome Measures in Rheumatology Clinical Trials (OMERACT) RA MRI Score (RAMRIS) blinded to visit order and XR scores. Data from the two treatment arms were pooled for this analysis.
Results: Mean MRI cartilage score increased at 12 and 24 weeks, and reached statistical significance at 24 weeks. XR total Sharp score, XR erosion score and XR joint-space narrowing (JSN) score all increased at 24 weeks, but only XR total Sharp score increased significantly.
Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first publication of a study demonstrating MRI's ability to monitor cartilage loss in a multi-site clinical trial. Combined with MRI's established performance in monitoring bone erosions in RA, these findings suggest that MRI may offer a superior alternative to XR in multi-site clinical trials of RA.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00425932.