Quantitative ultrashort echo time magnetization transfer (UTE-MT) for diagnosis of early cartilage degeneration: comparison with UTE-T2* and T2 mapping

Jiawei Yang, Hongda Shao, Yajun Ma, Lidi Wan, Yixuan Zhang, Junjie Jiang, Jiang Du, Guangyu Tang


Background: To investigate the feasibility of using quantitative ultrashort echo time magnetization transfer (UTE-MT) technique in diagnosing early cartilage degeneration and to compare the technique’s diagnostic efficacy with UTE-T2* mapping and T2 mapping.
Methods: Twenty human anterolateral condyle specimens with degeneration were obtained from volunteers undergoing total knee arthroplasty (TKA); they then underwent magnetic resonance (MR) scan on a clinical 3.0T scanner (GE, MR750). Seventy-two regions of interest (ROI) were manually drawn on specimens for UTE-MT, UTE-T2*, and T2 measurement, and the corresponding cartilage-bone regions were further divided into degeneration classifications of normal (n=11, Mankin scores 0–1), mild (n=28, Mankin scores 2–5), moderate (n=21, Mankin scores 6–9), and severe (n=12, Mankin scores 10–14) based on histological measures of degeneration (i.e., Mankin scores) as a reference standard. Differences among groups and correlations between quantitative MR parameters and Mankin scores were assessed using analysis of variance (ANOVA), Tamhane-T2, LSD, Kruskal-Wallis tests, and Spearman’s correlation coefficient. The receiver- operating characteristic (ROC) curve was used to compare the diagnostic efficacy of different quantitative MR parameters for the detection of mild cartilage degeneration.
Results: The UTE magnetization transfer ratio (UTE-MTR) in the normal group was significantly different from the mild group (P=0.021), moderate group (P<0.001), and severe group (P<0.001). Significant differences were observed in the T2* values between both the normal group and the moderate group (P<0.032), and between the normal group and the severe group (P<0.001). For T2 values, the only significant difference was observed between the severe group and the normal group (P=0.011). The UTE-MTR, UTE-T2*, and T2 values were all significantly correlated with Mankin scores: UTE-MTR values were strongly (r=−0.678, P<0.001) correlated, UTE-T2* values were markedly correlated (r=−0.501, P<0.001), and T2 values were weakly correlated (r=0.337, P=0.004) correlated with Mankin scores. The diagnostic efficacy of UTE-MTR (AUC =0.828, P=0.002) was better than UTE T2* mapping and T2 mapping (AUC =0.604, P=0.318; AUC =0.644, P=0.165, respectively) for the diagnosis of early cartilage degeneration.
Conclusions: UTE-MTR values were strongly correlated with histological grades of cartilage degeneration, and its diagnostic efficacy was better than both UTE T2* mapping and T2 mapping in detecting early cartilage degeneration. Once the clinical potential of the technique has been confirmed, UTE-MT may provide a promising imaging biomarker with potential application in a more comprehensive diagnosis and monitoring of cartilage degeneration.