Objectives To develop and test an MRI cartilage scoring system for use at the wrist in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods MRI scans were obtained using a 3T MRI scanner with dedicated wrist coil in 22 early and 16 established RA patients plus 22 controls. Axial and coronal T1-weighted (precontrast and postcontrast) and T2-weighted turbo spin echo sequences were obtained. Eight wrist joints were scored for cartilage narrowing: distal radioulnar, radiolunate, radioscaphoid, triquetrum-hamate, capitate-lunate, scaphotrapezoid, second metacarpal base-trapezoid and third metacarpal base-capitate, using a system based on the Sharp van der Heijde x-ray joint space narrowing (JSN) score by three radiologists. Fifteen sites at the wrist were also scored for synovitis, bone oedema and erosion using the RA MRI score.
Results Interobserver (three-reader) and intraobserver reliability (readers 1 and 2) for the cartilage score were excellent: intraclass correlations (ICC (95% CI)) 0.91, (0.86 to 0.94), 0.98 (0.96 to 1.00) and 0.94 (0.87 to 1.00), respectively. Cartilage scores (median, range) were higher in the established RA group (11.9, 2.3–27.3) than the early RA group (2.15, 0–6) (p≤0.001) but early RA scores did not differ from healthy controls (2.3, 1–8.7). Cartilage scores correlated with synovitis (R=0.52), bone oedema (R=0.63) and erosion scores (R=0.66), p<0.001 for all, and with x-ray JSN scores (R=0.68 to 0.78).
Conclusion This MRI cartilage score demonstrated excellent reliability when tested in a three-reader system. However, cartilage loss in early RA could not be distinguished from that seen in healthy controls.
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