Do dGEMRIC and T2 Imaging Correlate With Histologic Cartilage Degeneration in an Experimental Ovine FAI Model?

Schmaranzer F1, Arendt L, Liechti EF, Nuss K, von Rechenberg B, Kircher PR, Tannast M.
Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2019 May;477(5):990-1003.

BACKGROUND: Biochemical MRI of hip cartilage such as delayed gadolinium-enhanced MRI of cartilage (dGEMRIC) and T2 mapping is increasingly used to judge cartilage quality in the assessment of femoroacetabular impingement (FAI). The current evidence is sparse about which of these techniques yields a stronger correlation with histologic cartilage degeneration because of the difficulty in validating biochemical MRI techniques against histology in the clinical setting. Recently, an experimental ovine FAI model was established that induces chondrolabral damage and offers a validated platform to address these limitations.

QUESTIONS/PURPOSES: In a sheep model, we asked: (1) Do dGEMRIC and/or T2 values of acetabular and femoral cartilage correlate with histologic cartilage degeneration as assessed with the Mankin score? (2) Do simultaneously measured dGEMRIC and T2 values correlate in an experimental ovine FAI model?

METHODS: We performed an experimental pilot study on five female Swiss Alpine sheep (10 hips) that underwent postmortem MRI, including biochemical cartilage sequences, after a staged FAI correction had been performed on one side. No surgery was performed on the contralateral side, which served as a healthy control. In these sheep, an extraarticular intertrochanteric varus osteotomy was performed to rotate the naturally aspherical ovine femoral head into the acetabulum to induce cam-type FAI and chondrolabral damage comparable to human beings. After a 70-day ambulation period, femoral osteochondroplasty was performed and all sheep were euthanized after a total observation period of 210 days. Before they were euthanized, the sheep received a contrast agent and roamed and walked for at least 45 minutes. Hips were prepared to fit in a knee coil and MRI was performed at 3 T including a three-dimensional (3-D) dGEMRIC sequence, a two-dimensional (2-D) radial T2 mapping sequence, and a 2-D radial proton density-weighted sequence for morphologic cartilage assessment. Using specifically developed software, the 3-D dGEMRIC images and T2 maps were coregistered on the 2-D morphologic radial images. This enabled us to simultaneously measure dGEMRIC and T2 values using the identical regions of interest. dGEMRIC and T2 values of the acetabular and femoral cartilage were measured circumferentially using anatomic landmarks. After MRI, bone-cartilage samples were taken from the acetabulum and the femur and stained with toluidine blue for assessment of the histologic cartilage degeneration using the Mankin score, which was assessed in consensus by two observers. Spearman's rank correlation coefficient was used to (1) correlate dGEMRIC values and T2 values with the histologic Mankin score of femoroacetabular cartilage; and to (2) correlate dGEMRIC values and T2 values of femoroacetabular cartilage.

RESULTS: A moderate to fair correlation between overall dGEMRIC values of the acetabular cartilage (R = -0.430; p = 0.003) and the femoral cartilage (R = -0.334; p = 0.003) versus the histologic Mankin score was found. A moderate correlation (R = -0.515; p = 0.010) was found among peripheral dGEMRIC values of the acetabulum, the superior femoral cartilage (R = -0.500; p = 0.034), and the histologic Mankin score, respectively. No correlation between overall and regional femoroacetabular T2 values and the histologic Mankin scores was found. No correlation between overall and regional femoroacetabular dGEMRIC values and T2 values was found.

CONCLUSIONS: In this recently established sheep model, we found dGEMRIC values correlated well with histologic evidence of cartilage degeneration in the hip. This combination of a robust animal model and an accurate imaging technique appears to offer a noninvasive means to study the natural course of FAI and to compare the effectiveness of potential surgical options to treat it.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE: This translational study supports the continuing use of dGEMRIC as a biomarker for prearthritic cartilage degeneration with the ultimate goal to identify patients who will benefit most from corrective FAI surgery. The value of T2 imaging of hip cartilage warrants further investigation.

Small animal: