Research Papers

Noninvasive Assessment of Biochemical and Mechanical Properties of Lumbar Discs Through Quantitative Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Asymptomatic Volunteers

[+] Author and Article Information
Mary H. Foltz

Department of Rehabilitation Medicine,
University of Minnesota,
MMC 388 Mayo,
420 Delaware Street SE,
Minneapolis, MN 55455
e-mail: foltz017@umn.edu

Craig C. Kage

Department of Rehabilitation Medicine,
University of Minnesota,
MMC 388 Mayo,
420 Delaware Street SE,
Minneapolis, MN 55455
e-mail: kagex001@umn.edu

Casey P. Johnson

Department of Radiology,
Center for Magnetic Resonance Research,
University of Minnesota,
2021 6th Street S.E.,
Minneapolis, MN 55455
e-mail: john5037@umn.edu

Arin M. Ellingson

Department of Rehabilitation Medicine,
University of Minnesota,
MMC 388 Mayo,
420 Delaware Street SE,
Minneapolis, MN 55455
e-mail: ellin224@umn.edu

1Corresponding author.

Manuscript received May 13, 2017; final manuscript received August 1, 2017; published online September 27, 2017. Assoc. Editor: Kyle Allen.

J Biomech Eng 139(11), 111002 (Sep 27, 2017) (7 pages) Paper No: BIO-17-1212; doi: 10.1115/1.4037549 History: Received May 13, 2017; Revised August 01, 2017

Intervertebral disc degeneration is a prevalent phenomenon associated with back pain. It is of critical clinical interest to discriminate disc health and identify early stages of degeneration. Traditional clinical T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), assessed using the Pfirrmann classification system, is subjective and fails to adequately capture initial degenerative changes. Emerging quantitative MRI techniques offer a solution. Specifically, T2* mapping images water mobility in the macromolecular network, and our preliminary ex vivo work shows high predictability of the disc's glycosaminoglycan content (s-GAG) and residual mechanics. The present study expands upon this work to predict the biochemical and biomechanical properties in vivo and assess their relationship with both age and Pfirrmann grade. Eleven asymptomatic subjects (range: 18–62 yrs) were enrolled and imaged using a 3T MRI scanner. T2-weighted images (Pfirrmann grade) and quantitative T2* maps (predict s-GAG and residual stress) were acquired. Surface maps based on the distribution of these properties were generated and integrated to quantify the surface volume. Correlational analyses were conducted to establish the relationship between each metric of disc health derived from the quantitative T2* maps with both age and Pfirrmann grade, where an inverse trend was observed. Furthermore, the nucleus pulposus (NP) signal in conjunction with volumetric surface maps provided the ability to discern differences during initial stages of disc degeneration. This study highlights the ability of T2* mapping to noninvasively assess the s-GAG content, residual stress, and distributions throughout the entire disc, which may provide a powerful diagnostic tool for disc health assessment.

Copyright © 2017 by ASME
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Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 1

Axial T2* map of a healthy intervertebral disc with ROIs identified: aAF, pAF, oAF, iAF, and NP. The iAF and oAF were obtained from the left and right lateral sides of the disc. (Reprinted with permission from Ellingson et al. [18]. Copyright 2014 by Wiley.)

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 2

Representative axial T2* map of a healthy (top) and severely degenerated (bottom) intervertebral disc with corresponding surface maps of T2* relaxation times, s-GAG, and residual stress. Healthy: Pfirrmann grade 1; severe: Pfirrmann grade 5. Figure partially adapted from Ellingson et al. [18].

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 3

Correlation plots between metrics of disc health (T2* relaxation time, s-GAG, and residual stress) and age (left) and Pfirrmann grade (right) in the NP. s-GAG content is represented in red with one side of the prediction interval displayed below the prediction. Residual stress is represented in blue with one side of the prediction interval displayed above the prediction. Pearson's correlation coefficient (r) and p-value are displayed.

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 4

Correlation plot of age and T2* surface volume of the disc with corresponding correlation coefficient (r) and p-value

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 5

Correlation plot of Pfirrmann grade and T2* surface volume of the disc with the linear and second-order polynomial regression; R2, adjusted R2, and p-value

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 6

Depiction of the continuum of early degeneration with sagittal T2-weighted images with corresponding Pfirrmann grade, axial T2* maps with NP T2* relaxation time, and T2* surface maps with quantified surface volume



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