Open Access Open Badges Research article

The utility of MRI in predicting radiographic erosions in the metatarsophalangeal joints of the rheumatoid foot: a prospective longitudinal cohort study

Matthew L Mundwiler1, Paul Maranian2, Douglas H Brown3, Jeffrey M Silverman3, Daniel Wallace4, Dinesh Khanna2, James Louie2, Daniel E Furst2 and Michael H Weisman4*

Author Affiliations

1 North Suburban Rheumatologists, 9301 W. Golf Road, #205, Des Plaines, IL 60016, USA

2 David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California in Los Angeles, 1000 Veteran Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

3 Landmark Imaging Medical Group, Inc., 11620 Wilshire Boulevard, #100, Los Angeles, CA 90025, USA

4 Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, 8700 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2009, 11:R94  doi:10.1186/ar2737

See related editorial by McQueen and Dalbeth,

Published: 22 June 2009



Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may reveal rheumatoid arthritis (RA) changes in the feet when hands are normal. The purpose of this study was to determine the sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV), and negative predictive value (NPV) of a metatarsophalangeal (MTP) erosion on MRI to predict a subsequent radiographic erosion in the same joint. Similar analyses were performed for bone marrow edema, predicting a subsequent MRI erosion. Descriptive results of other lesions are reported.


Fifty patients with RA of less than 5 years' duration who were rheumatoid factor-positive and/or anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide-positive were recruited. Patients on anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF) therapy were excluded. Anti-TNF therapy could begin after enrollment. MRI and radiographs of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th MTP joints bilaterally were taken at baseline and at 6, 12, and 24 months. Clinical data were collected.


Fifty patients were recruited; 46 patients had suitable data. Results for MRI erosions predicting subsequent radiographic erosions for 6, 12, and 24 months, respectively, were as follows: sensitivity 0.75, 0.60, 0.75; specificity 0.93, 0.94, 0.94; PPV 0.086, 0.10, 0.17; NPV 0.998, 0.995, 0.995. Results for MRI bone marrow edema predicting MRI erosions at 6 and 12 months, respectively, revealed sensitivity 0.50, 0.67; specificity 0.97, 0.97; PPV 0.25, 0.50; NPV 0.99, 0.99. Synovitis was the most common finding and, when present in isolation, resolved on 67.3% of subsequent studies. MRI erosions persisted on subsequent studies with one exception. Forty-six percent of the cohort was on anti-TNF therapy after study inception.


The PPV of MRI erosions to predict subsequent radiographic erosions was low. Similarly, the PPV of bone marrow edema to predict a later MRI erosion was low. Alternatively, the NPV of the absence of an MRI erosion or bone marrow edema predicts that a later radiographic erosion or MRI erosion will likely not develop. Anti-TNF therapies may have resulted in the lower-than-anticipated PPVs. MRI descriptions of bone edema may represent a more critical time to treat in order to avoid damage, whereas an MRI erosion represents more permanent damage. This study suggests that imaging modalities more sensitive than radiographs are necessary to monitor disease in the biologic era.