Atlanto-axial Pannus in Patients with and without Rheumatoid Arthritis

J Rheumatol. 2019 Nov;46(11):1431-1437. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.181429. Epub 2019 Apr 1.


Objective: Pannus formation in the atlanto-axial joint is a well-recognized complication of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Occasionally, atlanto-axial pannus is reported when patients without a history of RA undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the cervical spine. We sought to further characterize these patients.

Methods: The Partners HealthCare Research Patient Data Registry was free-text searched for "atlanto-axial" AND "pannus" in cervical spine MRI reports from 2001 to 2015. Cases with MRI reports describing pannus were reviewed. Clinical data were extracted by chart review in cases with confirmed atlanto-axial pannus (n = 105).

Results: Twenty-nine patients (27.6%) had RA, all of whom except one carried this diagnosis at the time of the MRI scan. Only 1 of 77 patients without a history of RA was subsequently diagnosed with RA (1.3%, 95% CI 0.1-7.0%, median followup 3.6 yrs). Non-RA patients were significantly older (median age 79 vs 63 yrs, p < 0.0001), less frequently female (55% vs 86%, p = 0.0032), and more likely to have undergone prior cervical spine surgery (18% vs 0%, p = 0.016) compared with RA patients. Thirty-four non-RA patients (44.7%) either had a clinical diagnosis of calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate disease (CPPD) or imaging evidence for tissue calcification. There were no significant differences in age or sex between the CPPD subgroup and other non-RA patients. Twenty-eight patients (26.7%) underwent cervical spine surgery.

Conclusion: Patients without RA diagnosis and incidental atlanto-axial pannus on cervical spine MRI are unlikely to have previously unrecognized RA. Degenerative disease and tissue calcification may contribute to pannus formation in these patients.


Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnostic imaging*
  • Atlanto-Axial Joint / diagnostic imaging*
  • Atlanto-Axial Joint / pathology*
  • Axis, Cervical Vertebra / diagnostic imaging
  • Cervical Atlas / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies