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Extended report
Spatial distribution of syndesmophytes along the vertebral rim in ankylosing spondylitis: preferential involvement of the posterolateral rim
  1. Sovira Tan1,
  2. Abhijit Dasgupta1,
  3. Jianhua Yao2,
  4. John A Flynn3,
  5. Lawrence Yao2,
  6. Michael M Ward1
  1. 1National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  2. 2Radiology and Imaging Sciences, Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  3. 3Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michael M Ward, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, Building 10 CRC, Room 4-1339, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA; wardm1{at}


Objective Syndesmophytes in ankylosing spondylitis (AS) can occur anywhere along the vertebral rim, but little is known about how and where they develop, and particularly if they first form in certain locations along the rim. This information might provide clues to their aetiology. We examined the spatial distribution of syndesmophytes in the thoracolumbar spine in patients with AS using CT.

Methods We performed lumbar spine CT scans in 50 patients and used a validated computer algorithm to measure syndesmophyte heights in six intervertebral disc spaces. We measured heights every five radial degrees around the rim of each superior and inferior vertebral endplate.

Results Syndesmophytes were observed in 208 of 296 intervertebral disc spaces. Both ascending and descending syndesmophytes were non-randomly distributed along the vertebral rim (p<0.0001 for deviation from uniform distribution). Syndesmophytes occurred most often at the posterolateral vertebral rim, and least commonly at the posterior rim and anterior rim. In disc spaces with only small isolated syndesmophytes, these were also most likely to occur at the posterolateral rim. Syndesmophyte distribution varied with the vertebral level. Localisation at the posterolateral rim was most pronounced at T10-T11, T12-T12 and T12-L1, while L2-L3 and L3-L4 exhibited little localisation.

Conclusions Syndesmophytes are not randomly distributed around the vertebral rim, as might be expected if they develop solely in response to inflammation. Rather, they preferentially occur, and likely develop first, at the posterolateral rim. Studying factors that can lead to this pattern may help elucidate how syndesmophytes develop.

  • Ankylosing Spondylitis
  • Outcomes research
  • Spondyloarthritis

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  • Handling editor Tore K Kvien

  • Contributors MMW conceived the study. ST, JY, LY, JAF and MMW designed the study and ST, AD and MMW did the analysis. MMW drafted the manuscript and all authors provided critical review and approval of the final version.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health, and by the Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine General Clinical Research Center (grant number M01-RR00052 from the National Center for Research Resources/NIH).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval NIAMS/NIDDK Institutional Review Board; Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions Institutional Review Board.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Data will be publicly available at the conclusion of the study.