This study aimed to appraise two quantitative magnetic resonance imaging techniques, T2* imaging and diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI), for the diagnosis of the intervertebral disc degeneration of the cervico-thoracic junction. Influence of specific factors and diagnostic accuracy of both techniques were particularly explored. Sixty-one volunteers with neck and upper back pain were recruited and evaluated with both T2* imaging and DWI. The Pfirrmann grade, T2* relaxation time and apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) value of each disc between C7 and T3 were recorded. Stratified analyses were performed for different anatomic levels, genders, age ranges and Pfirrmann grades. The diagnostic accuracy of both techniques was investigated using the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves. No statistically significant difference of either T2* relaxation time or ADC value was detected between males and females. Both parameters decreased with the increasing age and Pfirrmann grade. The ROC curves showed the higher sensitivity and specificity for T2* imaging than DWI to quantitatively identify the disc degeneration. Particularly, T2* imaging allowed for a quantitative distinguishing the normal, mild and moderate disc degeneration from the severe degeneration, which was unable to accomplish with DWI. In conclusion, we demonstrated that T2* imaging possess a better accuracy than DWI to quantitatively diagnose the intervertebral disc degeneration at the cervico-thoracic junction.
Keywords: Quantitative MRI; cervico-thoracic junction; intervertebral disc degeneration.