Murine articular cartilage morphology and compositional quantification with high resolution cationic contrast-enhanced μCT

J Orthop Res. 2017 Dec;35(12):2740-2748. doi: 10.1002/jor.23595. Epub 2017 May 23.


Articular cartilage lines the load-bearing surfaces of long bones and undergoes compositional and structural degeneration during osteoarthritis progression. Contrast enhanced microcomputed tomography (μCT) is being applied to a variety of preclinical models, including the mouse, to map structural and compositional properties in 3-D. The thinness (∼30-50 μm) and high cellularity of mouse articular cartilage presents a significant imaging challenge. Our group previously showed that mouse articular cartilage and proteoglycan (PG) content can be assessed by μCT with the ioxagalate-based contrast agent Hexabrix, but the voxel size used (6 μm) was deemed to be barely adequate. The objective of the present study is to assess the utility of a novel contrast agent, CA4+, to quantify mouse articular cartilage morphology and composition with high resolution μCT imaging (3 μm voxels) and to compare the sensitivity of CA4+ and Hexabrix to detect between-group differences. While both contrast agents are iodine-based, Hexabrix is anionic and CA4+ is cationic so they interact differently with negatively charged PGs. With CA4+, a strong correlation was found between non-calcified articular cartilage thickness measurements made with histology and μCT (R2 = 0.72, p < 0.001). Cartilage degeneration-as assessed by loss in volume, thickness, and PG content-was observed in 34-week-old mice when compared to both 7- and 12-week-old mice. High measurement precision was observed with CA4+, with the coefficient of variation after repositioning and re-imaging samples equaling 2.8%, 4.5%, 7.4% and 5.9% for attenuation, thickness, volume, and PG content, respectively. Use of CA4+ allowed increased sensitivity for assessing PG content compared to Hexabrix, but had no advantage for measurement of cartilage thickness or volume. This improvement in imaging should prove useful in preclinical studies of cartilage degeneration and regeneration. © 2017 Orthopaedic Research Society. Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Orthop Res 35:2740-2748, 2017.

Keywords: articular cartilage; contrast agent; micro-computed tomography; mouse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cartilage, Articular / diagnostic imaging*
  • Contrast Media*
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Female
  • Ioxaglic Acid
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Trypsin
  • X-Ray Microtomography


  • Contrast Media
  • Trypsin
  • Ioxaglic Acid