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Disc Degeneration in Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A Comparative Biochemical, Histologic, and Radiologic Study in Cadaver Spines

TERTTI, MINNA, MD; PAAJANEN, HANNU, MD; LAATO, MATTI, MD; AHO, HEIKKI, MD; KOMU, MARKKU, MS; KORMANO, MARTTI, MD

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings of 89 autopsied intervertebral discs from 22 cadaveric lumbar spines were correlated with biochemical composition, conventional radiography, and histologic structure to study the nature of disc intensity changes seen in MRI. Discs with a low signal intensity on T2-weighted MRI were characterized by shortening of relaxation times, dehydration, and decreases in total proteoglycan content and chondroitin-keratan sulfate ratios in the nucleus pulposus. This corresponded well with previously published studies. In histologic structure, no obvious differences between MRI findings were found. In conclusion, a low signal intensity in a lumbar disc on T2-weighted MRI probably reflects a true biochemical disc degeneration, but its relation to structural degenerative changes is uncertain. Therefore, MRI seems to be a sensitive and a specific imaging modality for detecting pathologic biochemical disc changes in the spine of a young adult.

From the Departments of Diagnostic Radiology, Surgery, and Pathology, University of Turku, Turku, Finland.

© Lippincott-Raven Publishers.