No pressure, no diamonds? - Static vs. dynamic compressive in-situ loading to evaluate human articular cartilage functionality by functional MRI
Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials 120: 104558 (2021-08)
Biomechanical Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of articular cartilage, i.e. its imaging under loading, is a promising diagnostic tool to assess the tissue's functionality in health and disease. This study aimed to assess the response to static and dynamic loading of histologically intact cartilage samples by functional MRI and pressure-controlled in-situ loading. To this end, 47 cartilage samples were obtained from the medial femoral condyles of total knee arthroplasties (from 24 patients), prepared to standard thickness, and placed in a standard knee joint in a pressure-controlled whole knee-joint compressive loading device. Cartilage samples' responses to static (i.e. constant), dynamic (i.e. alternating), and no loading, i.e. free-swelling conditions, were assessed before (δ ), and after 30 min (δ ) and 60 min (δ ) of loading using serial T1ρ maps acquired on a 3.0T clinical MRI scanner (Achieva, Philips). Alongside texture features, relative changes in T1ρ (Δ , Δ ) were determined for the upper and lower sample halves and the entire sample, analyzed using appropriate statistical tests, and referenced to histological (Mankin scoring) and biomechanical reference measures (tangent stiffness). Histological, biomechanical, and T1ρ sample characteristics at δ were relatively homogenous in all samples. In response to loading, relative increases in T1ρ were strong and significant after dynamic loading (Δ = 10.3 ± 17.0%, Δ = 21.6 ± 21.8%, p = 0.002), while relative increases in T1ρ after static loading and in controls were moderate and not significant. Generally, texture features did not demonstrate clear loading-related associations underlying the spatial relationships of T1ρ. When realizing the clinical translation, this in-situ study suggests that serial T1ρ mapping is best combined with dynamic loading to assess cartilage functionality in humans based on advanced MRI techniques.