Spatial distribution of syndesmophytes along the vertebral rim in ankylosing spondylitis: preferential involvement of the posterolateral rim

Ann Rheum Dis. 2016 Nov;75(11):1951-1957. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2015-208802. Epub 2016 Jan 21.


Objective: Syndesmophytes in ankylosing spondylitis (AS) can occur anywhere along the vertebral rim, but little is known about how and where they develop, and particularly if they first form in certain locations along the rim. This information might provide clues to their aetiology. We examined the spatial distribution of syndesmophytes in the thoracolumbar spine in patients with AS using CT.

Methods: We performed lumbar spine CT scans in 50 patients and used a validated computer algorithm to measure syndesmophyte heights in six intervertebral disc spaces. We measured heights every five radial degrees around the rim of each superior and inferior vertebral endplate.

Results: Syndesmophytes were observed in 208 of 296 intervertebral disc spaces. Both ascending and descending syndesmophytes were non-randomly distributed along the vertebral rim (p<0.0001 for deviation from uniform distribution). Syndesmophytes occurred most often at the posterolateral vertebral rim, and least commonly at the posterior rim and anterior rim. In disc spaces with only small isolated syndesmophytes, these were also most likely to occur at the posterolateral rim. Syndesmophyte distribution varied with the vertebral level. Localisation at the posterolateral rim was most pronounced at T10-T11, T12-T12 and T12-L1, while L2-L3 and L3-L4 exhibited little localisation.

Conclusions: Syndesmophytes are not randomly distributed around the vertebral rim, as might be expected if they develop solely in response to inflammation. Rather, they preferentially occur, and likely develop first, at the posterolateral rim. Studying factors that can lead to this pattern may help elucidate how syndesmophytes develop.

Keywords: Ankylosing Spondylitis; Outcomes research; Spondyloarthritis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ossification, Heterotopic / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ossification, Heterotopic / etiology
  • Ossification, Heterotopic / pathology
  • Spatial Analysis*
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing / complications*
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing / diagnostic imaging
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing / pathology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / statistics & numerical data*