MRI lesions of the spine in patients with axial spondyloarthritis: an update of lesion definitions and validation by the ASAS MRI working group

Ann Rheum Dis. 2022 May 24;annrheumdis-2021-222081. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2021-222081. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Spinal MRI is used to visualise lesions associated with axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA). The ASAS MRI working group (WG) updated and validated the definitions for inflammatory and structural spinal lesions in the context of axSpA.

Methods: After review of the existing literature on all possible types of spinal MRI pathologies in axSpA, the group (12 rheumatologists and two radiologists) consented on the required revisions of lesion definitions compared with the existing nomenclature of 2012. In a second step, using 62 MRI scans from the ASAS classification cohort, the proposed definitions were validated in a multireader campaign by global (absent/present) and detailed (inflammation and structural) lesion assessment at the vertebral corner (VC), vertebral endplate, facet joints, transverse processes, lateral and posterior elements. Intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) was used for analysis.

Results: Revisions were made for both inflammatory (bone marrow oedema, BMO) and structural (fat, erosion, bone spur and ankylosis) lesions, including localisation (central vs lateral), extension (VC vs vertebral endplate) and extent (minimum number of slices needed), while new definitions were suggested for the type of lesion based on lesion maturity (VC monomorphic vs dimorphic). The most reliably assessed lesions were VC fat lesion and VC monomorphic BMO (ICC (mean of all 36 reader pairs/overall 9 readers): 0.91/0.92; 0.70/0.67, respectively.

Conclusions: The lesion definitions for spinal MRI lesions compatible with SpA were updated by consensus and validated by a group of experienced readers. The lesions with the highest frequency and best reliability were fat and monomorphic inflammatory lesions at the VC.

Keywords: Inflammation; Magnetic Resonance Imaging; Spondylitis, Ankylosing.