Objectives: The aim of the study was to investigate biochemical cartilage composition under methotrexate (MTX) therapy and to intra-individually assess the impact of inflammation severity on cartilage composition by using dGEMRIC MRI in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (eRA).
Methods: dGEMRIC of MCP joints of the index and middle finger of 28 patients from the AthroMark cohort were examined prior to MTX-therapy as well as after 3 and 6 month. OMERACT RA MRI score and clinical parameters (CRP and DAS28) were registered at any time point. Each patient's second and third MCP joints were dichotomised into the joint with more severe synovitis versus the joint with less severe synovitis according to the RAMRIS synovitis subscore.
Results: MCP joints with more severe synovitis ('bad joints') demonstrated significantly lower dGEMRIC values compared to MCP joints with less severe synovitis ('good joints') at time-points 0 and 3 months (p=0.002; p=0.019, respectively). After 6 months of MTX therapy no significant difference of dGEMRIC index was found between good and bad joint (p=0.086).
Conclusions: Under MTX therapy, biochemical cartilage integrity remains stable; no further cartilage destruction occurred if patients were treated early in the course of the disease. In addition, six months of MTX therapy triggered an alignment of dGEMRIC index of MCP joints with initially severe synovitis and less severe synovitis in an intra-individual assessment. This underlines the importance of an early treatment in eRA to reduce further cartilage damage of the inflamed joints.