The goal of cartilage repair techniques such as microfracture (MFX) or matrix-associated autologous chondrocyte transplantation (MACT) is to produce repair tissue (RT) with sufficient glycosaminoglycan (GAG) content. Sodium magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) offers a direct and noninvasive evaluation of the GAG content in native cartilage and RT. In the femoral cartilage, this method was able to distinguish between RTs produced by MFX and MACT having different GAG contents. However, it needs to be clarified whether sodium MRI can be useful for evaluating RT in thin ankle cartilage. Thus, the aims of this 7-T study were (1) to validate our sodium MRI protocol in cadaver ankle samples, (2) to evaluate the sodium corrected signal intensities (cSI) in cartilage of volunteers, (3) and to compare sodium values in RT between patients after MFX and MACT treatment.
Materials and Methods
Five human cadaver ankle samples as well as ankles of 9 asymptomatic volunteers, 6 MFX patients and 6 MACT patients were measured in this 7-T study. Sodium values from the ankle samples were compared with histochemically evaluated GAG content. In the volunteers, sodium cSI values were calculated in the cartilages of ankle and subtalar joint. In the patients, sodium cSI in RT and reference cartilage were measured, morphological appearance of RT was evaluated using the magnetic resonance observation of cartilage repair tissue (MOCART) scoring system, and clinical outcome before and after surgery was assessed using the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society score and Modified Cincinnati Knee Scale. All regions of interest were defined on morphological images and subsequently transferred to the corresponding sodium images. Analysis of variance, t tests, and Pearson correlation coefficients were evaluated.
In the patients, significantly lower sodium cSI values were found in RT than in reference cartilage for the MFX (P = 0.007) and MACT patients (P = 0.008). Sodium cSI and MOCART scores in RT did not differ between the MFX and MACT patients (P = 0.185). No significant difference in sodium cSI was found between reference cartilage of the volunteers and the patients (P = 0.355). The patients showed significantly higher American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society and Modified Cincinnati scores after treatment than they did before treatment. In the volunteers, sodium cSI was significantly higher in the tibial cartilage than in the talar cartilage of ankle joint (P = 0.002) and in the talar cartilage than in the calcaneal cartilage of subtalar joint (P < 0.001). Data from the cadaver ankle samples showed a strong linear relationship between the sodium values and the histochemically determined GAG content (r = 0.800; P < 0.001; R2 = 0.639).
This study demonstrates the feasibility of in vivo quantification of sodium cSI, which can be used for GAG content evaluation in thin cartilages of ankle and subtalar joints at 7 T. A strong correlation observed between the histochemically evaluated GAG content and the sodium values proved the sufficient sensitivity of sodium MRI to changes in the GAG content of cartilages in the ankle. Both MFX and MACT produced RT with lower sodium cSI and, thus, of lower quality compared with reference cartilage in the patients or in the volunteers. Our results suggest that MFX and MACT produce RT with similar GAG content and similar morphological appearance in patients with similar surgery outcome. Sodium MRI at 7 T allows a quantitative evaluation of RT quality in the ankle and may thus be useful in the noninvasive assessment of new cartilage repair procedures.