Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of articular cartilage is a promising technique for the early diagnosis of osteoarthritis (OA). However, in vivo diffusion tensor (DT) measurements suffer from low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) that can result in bias when estimating the six parameters of the full DT, thus reducing sensitivity. This study seeks to validate a simplified four-parameter DT model (zeppelin) for obtaining more robust and sensitive in vivo DTI biomarkers of cartilage.
We use simulations in a substrate to mimic changes during OA; and analytic simulations of the DT drawn from a range of fractional anisotropies (FA) measured with high-quality DT data from ex vivo human cartilage. We also use in vivo data from the knees of a healthy subject and two OA patients with Kellgren-Lawrence (KL) grades 1 and 2.
For simulated in vivo cartilage SNR (∼25) and anisotropy levels, the estimated mean values of MD from the DT and zeppelin models were identical to the ground truth values. However, zeppelin’s FA is more accurate in measuring water restriction. More specifically, the FA estimations of the DT model were additionally biased by between +2% and +48% with respect to zeppelin values. Additionally, both mean diffusivity (MD) and FA of the zeppelin had lower parameter variance compared to the full DT (F-test, P < 0.05). We observe the same trends from in vivo values of patient data.
The zeppelin is more robust than the full DT for cartilage diffusion anisotropy and SNR at levels typically encountered in clinical applications of articular cartilage. Magn Reson Med, 2017. © 2017 International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.