Objective: Previous studies suggest that MR imaging is capable of providing accurate data on knee joint cartilage volume and thickness in vitro, but the reproducibility of these data in living subjects has not been analyzed rigorously. Our aim was therefore to determine the in vivo reproducibility of volume and thickness measurements from replicated data sets, applying three-dimensional (3D) postprocessing methods.
Subjects and methods: Eight healthy volunteers were imaged six times at a resolution of 2 x 0.31 x 0.31 mm with a fat-suppressed fast low-angle shot 3D sequence, the knee being repositioned in between replicated examinations. Three-dimensional reconstructions of the articular cartilage surfaces were obtained from sagittal data sets, and the cartilage volumes were calculated. The thickness distribution was analyzed throughout the joint surfaces independent of the section orientation, using a previously validated 3D minimal-distance algorithm.
Results: In the volunteers, the coefficient of variation for replicated volume measurements ranged from 1.3% (patella) to 3.4% (lateral tibia), and the standard deviation of the individual cartilage volumes ranged from +/- 16% (lateral tibia) to +/- 22% (femur). The intraclass correlation coefficient ranged from .959 (lateral tibia) to .995 (patella). The interobserver evaluation was similar to the interscan reproducibility. The mean interscan deviation of the maximal cartilage thickness interval ranged from 0.1 to 0.3 cartilage thickness intervals (of 0.5 mm); only in rare cases did we record deviations greater than one thickness interval.
Conclusion: MR imaging can be used to determine cartilage volume and thickness in the knee joints of living subjects with high precision, provided that a fat-suppressed gradient-echo sequence with adequate resolution and 3D digital image processing are used.