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Combined high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging and histological examination to explore the role of ligaments and tendons in the phenotypic expression of early hand osteoarthritis
  1. A L Tan1,
  2. H Toumi2,
  3. M Benjamin2,
  4. A J Grainger3,
  5. S F Tanner4,
  6. P Emery1,
  7. D McGonagle1
  1. 1Academic Unit of Musculoskeletal Disease, Chapel Allerton Hospital, Leeds, UK
  2. 2School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
  3. 3Department of Radiology, Chapel Allerton Hospital
  4. 4Academic Unit of Medical Physics, University of Leeds, Leeds
  1. Correspondence to:
    D McGonagle
    Academic Unit of Musculoskeletal Disease, Chapel Allerton Hospital, Chapeltown Road, Leeds LS7 4SA, UK; d.g.mcgonagle{at}


Background: The pathogenesis of the early stages of hand osteoarthritis is poorly understood, but recent high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (hrMRI) studies suggest that the joint ligaments have a major role in the phenotypic expression of the disease.

Objective: To combine hrMRI and cadaveric histological studies to better understand the mechanisms of damage, and especially the role of joint ligaments and tendons in disease expression.

Methods: hrMRI was carried out in the distal interphalangeal (DIP) and proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joints in 20 patients with osteoarthritis,with a disease duration ⩽12 months. Histological sections of the DIP and PIP joints were obtained from three dissecting-room specimens for comparative analysis.

Results: The collateral ligaments influenced the location of both hrMRI-determined bone oedema and bone erosion in early osteoarthritis. These changes were best understood in relation to the enthesis organ concept, whereby the interaction between ligament fibrocartilages leads to bone disease. Normal ligaments were commonly associated with microdamage at insertions corresponding to ligament thickening noted in early osteoarthritis. The ligaments also influenced the location of node formation in early osteoarthritis. The DIP extensor tendon insertions were associated with the development of a neoarticular surface.

Conclusions: Small-joint collateral ligaments and tendons have a central role in the early stages of hand osteoarthritis, and determine the early expression of both the soft tissue and bony changes in disease.

  • DIP, distal interphalangeal
  • hrMRI, high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging
  • MRI, magnetic resonance imaging
  • PIP, proximal interphalangeal

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  • Published Online First 20 April 2006

  • Funding: This study was supported by the Medical Research Council, UK, and Action Medical Research and Search.

  • Competing interests: None.

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