Several articles have investigated potential of sodium (23Na) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for the in vivo evaluation of cartilage health, but so far no study tested its feasibility for the evaluation of focal cartilage lesions of grade 1 or 2 as defined by the International Cartilage Repair Society. The aims of this study were to evaluate the ability of 23Na-MRI to differentiate between early focal lesions and normal-appearing cartilage, to evaluate within-subject reproducibility of 23Na-MRI, and to monitor longitudinal changes in participants with low-grade, focal chondral lesions.
Materials and Methods
Thirteen participants (mean age, 50.1 ± 10.9 years; 7 women, 6 men) with low-grade, focal cartilage lesions in the weight-bearing region of femoral cartilage were included in this prospective cohort study. Participants were assessed at baseline, 1 week, 3 months, and 6 months using morphological MRI at 3 T and 7 T, compositional 23Na-MRI at 7 T, and the Knee Injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (KOOS) questionnaire. 23Na signal intensities corrected for coil sensitivity and partial volume effect (23Na-cSI) were calculated in the lesion, and in weight-bearing and non–weight-bearing regions of healthy femoral cartilage. Coefficients of variation, repeated measures analysis of covariance models, and Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated to evaluate within-subject reproducibility as well as cross-sectional and longitudinal changes in 23Na-cSI values.
The mean coefficients of variation of 23Na-cSI values between the baseline and 1-week follow-up were 5.1% or less in all cartilage regions. Significantly lower 23Na-cSI values were observed in lesion than in weight-bearing and non–weight-bearing regions at all time points (all P values ≤ 0.002). Although a significant decrease from baseline 23Na-cSI values in lesion was found at 3-month visit (P = 0.015), no substantial change was observed at 6 months. KOOS scores have improved in all subscales at 3 months and 6 months visit, with a significant increase observed only in the quality of life subscale (P = 0.004).
In vivo 23Na-MRI is a robust and reproducible method that allows to differentiate between low-grade, focal cartilage lesions and normal-appearing articular cartilage, which supports the concept that compositional cartilage changes can be found early, before the development of advanced morphological changes visible at clinical 3-T MRI.