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What is the fate of erosions in early rheumatoid arthritis? Tracking individual lesions using x rays and magnetic resonance imaging over the first two years of disease
  1. F M McQueen,
  2. N Benton,
  3. J Crabbe,
  4. E Robinson,
  5. S Yeoman,
  6. L McLean,
  7. N Stewart
  1. Department of Molecular Medicine, Auckland School of Medicine, Auckland University, New Zealand
  1. Dr F McQueen, Department of Molecular Medicine, Auckland School of Medicine, Auckland University, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealandf.mcqueen{at}


OBJECTIVES To investigate the progression of erosions at sites within the carpus, in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA), using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and plain radiology over a two year period.

METHODS Gadolinium enhanced MRI scans of the dominant wrist were performed in 42 patients with RA at baseline (within six months of symptom onset) and one year. Plain wrist radiographs (x rays) and clinical data were obtained at baseline, one year, and two years. Erosions were scored by two musculoskeletal radiologists on MRI andx ray at 15 sites in the wrist. A patient centred analysis was used to evaluate the prognostic value of a baseline MRI scan. A lesion centred analysis was used to track the progression of individual erosions over two years.

RESULTS The baseline MRI erosion score was predictive of x ray erosion score at two years (p=0.004). Patients with a “total MRI score” (erosion, bone oedema, synovitis, and tendonitis) ⩾13 at baseline were significantly more likely to develop erosions onx ray at two years (odds ratio 13.4, 95% CI 2.65 to 60.5, p=0.002). Baseline wrist MRI has a sensitivity of 80%, a specificity of 76%, a positive predictive value of 67%, and a high negative predictive value of 86% for the prediction of wristx ray erosions at two years. A lesion centred analysis, which included erosions scored by one or both radiologists, showed that 84% of baseline MRI erosions were still present at one year. When a more stringent analysis was used which required complete concordance between radiologists, all baseline lesions persisted at one year. The number of MRI erosion sites in each patient increased from 2.1 (SD 2.7) to 5.0 (4.6) (p<0.0001) over the first year of disease. When MRI erosion sites were tracked, 21% and 26% were observed on x ray, one and two years later. A high baseline MRI synovitis score, Ritchie score, and erythrocyte sedimentation rate were predictive of progression of MRI erosions to x ray erosions over one year (p=0.005, 0.01, and 0.03 respectively), but there was no association with the shared epitope. Progression of MRI erosions tox ray erosions was not seen in those with transient polyarthritis.

CONCLUSIONS MRI scans of the wrist, taken when patients first present with RA, can predict radiographic erosions at two years. MRI may have a role in the assessment of disease prognosis and selection of patients for more or less aggressive treatment. However, only one in four MRI erosions progresses to an x ray erosion over one year, possibly owing to healing, observer error, or technical limitations of radiography at the carpus. Progression of MRI erosions to x ray erosions is greatest in those with high baseline disease activity.

  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • carpus
  • early rheumatoid arthritis
  • erosions
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  • Supported by grants from the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the Arthritis Foundation of New Zealand, the Auckland Medical Research Foundation, Lotteries Health, New Zealand, the Auckland Radiology Group, and Sanofi-Winthrop.

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