Bone marrow lesions in knee osteoarthritis: regional differences in tibial subchondral bone microstructure and their association with cartilage degeneration

D. Muratovic, D. M. Findlay, F. M. Cicuttini, A. E. Wluka, Y. R. Lee, S. Edwards, J. S. Kuliwaba

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Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate how bone microstructure within bone marrow lesions (BMLs) relates to the bone and cartilage across the whole human tibial plateau. Design: Thirty-two tibial plateaus from patients with osteoarthritis (OA) at total knee arthroplasty and eleven age-matched non-OA controls, were scanned ex vivo by MRI to identify BMLs and by micro CT to quantitate the subchondral (plate and trabecular) bone microstructure. For cartilage evaluation, specimens were processed histologically. Results: BMLs were detected in 75% of the OA samples (OA-BML), located predominantly in the anterior-medial (AM) region. In contrast to non-OA control and OA-no BML, in OA-BML differences in microstructure were significantly more evident between subregions. In OA-BML, the AM region contained the most prominent structural alterations. Between-group comparisons showed that the AM region of the OA-BML group had significantly higher histological degeneration (OARSI grade) (P < .0001, P < .05), thicker subchondral plate (P < .05, P < .05), trabeculae that are more anisotropic (P < .0001, P < .05), well connected (P < .05, P = n.s), and more plate-like (P < 0.05, P < 0.05), compared to controls and OA-no BML at this site. Compared to controls, OA-no BML had significantly higher OARSI grade (P < .0001), and lower trabecular number (P < .05). Conclusion: In established knee OA, both the extent of cartilage damage and microstructural degeneration of the subchondral bone were dependent on the presence of a BML. In OA-no BML, bone microstructural alterations are consistent with a bone attrition phase of the disease. Thus, the use of BMLs as MRI image-based biomarkers appear to inform on the degenerative state within the osteochondral unit.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1653-1662
Number of pages10
JournalOsteoarthritis and Cartilage
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Bone marrow lesion
  • Cartilage volume
  • Knee osteoarthritis
  • Micro CT
  • Subchondral bone microarchitecture

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