The aim of this study was to quantitatively assess changes in collagen structure using MR T1- and T2
*-mapping in a novel controlled ex vivo tendon model setup.
Materials and Methods
Twenty-four cadaveric bovine flexor tendons underwent MRI at 3 T before and after chemical modifications, representing mechanical degeneration and augmentation. Collagen degradation (COL), augmenting collagen fiber cross-linking (CXL), and a control (phosphate-buffered saline [PBS]) were examined in experimental groups, using histopathology as standard of reference. Variable echo-time and variable-flip angle gradient-echo sequences were used for T2
*- and T1-mapping
, respectively. Standard T1- and T2-weighted
spin-echo sequences were acquired for visual assessment of tendon texture. Tendons were assessed subsequently for their biomechanical properties and compared with quantitative MRI analysis.
T1- and T2
*-mapping was feasible and repeatable for untreated (mean, 545 milliseconds, 2.0 milliseconds) and treated tendons. Mean T1 and T2
* values of COL, CXL, and PBS tendons were 1459, 934, and 1017 milliseconds, and 5.5, 3.6, and 2.5 milliseconds, respectively. T2
* values were significantly different between enzymatically degraded tendons, cross-linked tendons, and controls, and were significantly correlated with mechanical tendon properties (r
= −0.74, P
< 0.01). T1 values and visual assessment could not differentiate CXL from PBS tendons. Photo-spectroscopy showed increased autofluorescence of cross-linked tendons, whereas histopathology verified degenerative lesions of enzymatically degraded tendons.
*-mapping has the potential to detect and quantify subtle changes in tendon collagen structure not visible on conventional clinical MRI. Tendon T2
* values might serve as a biomarker for biochemical alterations associated with tendon pathology.