Glycosaminoglycan chemical exchange saturation transfer of lumbar intervertebral discs in patients with spondyloarthritis

J Magn Reson Imaging. 2015 Oct;42(4):1057-63. doi: 10.1002/jmri.24877. Epub 2015 Mar 11.


Purpose: To assess glycosaminoglycan (GAG) content of lumbar intervertebral discs (IVD) in patients with spondyloarthritis (SpA) using glycosaminoglycan chemical exchange saturation transfer (gagCEST).

Materials and methods: Ninety lumbar intervertebral discs of nine patients with SpA and nine age-matched healthy controls (eight patients with ankylosing spondylitis; one patient with spondylitis related to inflammatory bowel disease; mean age: 44.1 ± 14.0 years; range: 27-72 years) were examined with a 3T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner in this prospective study. The MRI protocol included standard morphological, sagittal T2 -weighted (T2 w) images to assess Pfirrmann score of the five lumbar IVDs (L1 to S1) and biochemical imaging with gagCEST to calculate a region of interest analysis of nucleus pulposus (NP) and annulus fibrosus (AF). Prior to statistical testing of gagCEST effects (MTRasym values in percent) in patients and controls, IVDs were classified according to the Pfirrmann score.

Results: Significantly lower gagCEST values of NP and AF were found in SpA patients compared with healthy volunteers (NP: 1.41% ± 0.41%, P = 0.001; 95% confidence interval, CI [0.600%-2.226%]; AF: 1.19% ± 0.32%, P < 0.001; CI [0.560%-1.822%]) by comparing the differences of the means. Pooled nondegenerative IVDs (Pfirrmann 1 and 2) had significantly lower gagCEST effects in patients suffering from SpA compared with healthy controls in NP (P < 0.001; CI [1.176%-2.337%]) and AF (P < 0.001; CI [0.858%-1.779%]). No significant difference of MTRasym values was found in degenerative IVDs between patients and controls in NP (P = 0.204; CI [-0.504%-2.170%]).

Conclusion: GagCEST analysis of morphologically nondegenerative IVDs (Pfirrmann score 1 and 2) in T2 w images demonstrated significantly lower GAG values in patients with spondyloarthritis in NP and AF, possibly representing a depletion of GAG in spondyloarthritis in the absence of morphologic degeneration.

Keywords: glycosaminoglycan chemical exchange saturation transfer; lumbar intervertebral disc; magnetic resonance imaging; magnetization transfer asymmetry ratio; spondyloarthritis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Female
  • Glycosaminoglycans / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / metabolism*
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / metabolism*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Imaging / methods
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spondylarthritis / metabolism*
  • Spondylarthritis / pathology


  • Biomarkers
  • Glycosaminoglycans