Population average T2 MRI maps reveal quantitative regional transformations in the degenerating rabbit intervertebral disc that vary by lumbar level.

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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: Journal of Orthopaedic Research.

Volume 33, Issue 1, 1 January 2015, Pages 140-148.

The published version is available at DOI: 10.1002/jor.22737

Copyright © 2014 Orthopaedic Research Society.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with T2-weighting is routinely performed to assess intervertebral disc degeneration. Standard clinical evaluations of MR images are qualitative, however, and do not focus on region-specific alterations in the disc. Utilizing a rabbit needle puncture model, T2 mapping was performed on injured discs to develop a quantitative description of the degenerative process following puncture. To do so, an 18G needle was inserted into four discs per rabbit (L3/L4 to L6/L7) and T2 maps were generated pre- and 4 weeks post-injury. Individual T2 maps were normalized to a disc-specific coordinate system and then averaged for pre- and post-injury population composite T2 maps. We also developed a method to automatically segment the nucleus pulposus by fitting the NP region of the T2 maps with modified 2-D and 3-D Gaussian distribution functions. Puncture injury produced alterations in MR signal intensity in a region-specific manner mirroring human degeneration. Population average T2 maps provided a quantitative representation of the injury response, and identified deviations of individual degenerate discs from the pre-injury population. We found that the response to standardized injury was modest at lower lumbar levels, likely as a result of increased disc dimensions. These tools will be valuable for the quantitative characterization of disc degeneration in future clinical and pre-clinical studies.

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