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Acoustic stiffness and change in plug cartilage over time after autologous osteochondral grafting: correlation between ultrasound signal intensity and histological score in a rabbit model

Hiroshi Kuroki1, Yasuaki Nakagawa2*, Koji Mori3, Mao Ohba2, Takashi Suzuki2, Yasuyuki Mizuno2, Keiji Ando2, Makoto Takenaka4, Ken Ikeuchi4 and Takashi Nakamura2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physical Therapy, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan

2 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan

3 Applied Medical Engineering Science, Graduate School of Medicine, Yamaguchi University, Yamaguchi, Japan

4 Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan

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Arthritis Res Ther 2004, 6:R492-R504  doi:10.1186/ar1219

Published: 14 September 2004


We investigated quantitative changes over time in ultrasound signal intensity (an index of stiffness), signal duration (an index of surface irregularity), and interval between signals (an index of thickness) of plug cartilage in an animal model of autologous osteochondral grafting. A full-thickness osteochondral plug was surgically removed and replaced in male Japanese white rabbits (n = 22). Specimens obtained at day 0 and weeks 2, 4, 8, 12 and 24 postoperatively were assessed using an ultrasound system and by macroscopic and histological evaluation (modified Mankin's score). Histology revealed that the plug sank until 2 weeks postoperatively, and that newly formed cartilage-like tissue covered the plug, but at 24 weeks the tissue detached. The plug itself survived well throughout the period of observation. Although the signal intensity at the plug site was same as that in the sham operated contralateral knee at day 0, from 2 to 24 weeks postoperatively it was less than that in the sham knee. At 8 weeks, this difference was significant (P < 0.05). Modified Mankin's score revealed early degenerative changes at the site, but macroscopic examination did not. Signal intensity correlated significantly with score (both at day 0 and at the five postoperative time points [P < 0.05, r = -0.91] and as a whole [P < 0.05, r = -0.36]). Signal intensity also significantly correlated with the individual subscores for 'cartilage structure' (P < 0.05, r = -0.32) and 'cartilage cells' (P < 0.05, r = -0.30) from the modified Mankin's score, but not significantly with subscores for 'staining' and 'tidemark'. Signal duration correlated significantly with total score (as a whole [P < 0.05, r = 0.34]), but not significantly with the score for cartilage structure (P = 0.0557, r = 0.29). The interval between signals reflected well the actual thickness of the plug site. The significant relationships between ultrasound signal intensity and scores suggest that early degenerative changes in plug cartilage and cartilage-like tissue, especially in the superficial layer, are detectable by high-frequency ultrasound assessment.

articular cartilage; high-frequency ultrasound; histology; osteochondral grafting surgery