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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 142 No. 0102 (2012)

Imaging in arthritis: quantifying effects of therapeutic intervention using MRI and molecular imaging

  • MA Cimmino
  • F Barbieri
  • G Zampogna
  • D Camellino
  • F Paparo
  • M Parodi
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2012;142:w13326


Modern imaging techniques are becoming increasingly important in assessing the course of arthritis and in permitting measurement of response to treatment as part of the follow-up of patients. They include ultrasonography (US), MRI, PET/CT, and biofluorescence. In patients with rheumatoid arthritis, clinical evaluation is significantly less sensitive than either US or MRI in detecting synovitis. As a result, imaging is a useful alternative to achieving proper assessment of disease activity. The different areas in which the new imaging techniques could help practicing rheumatologists and internal physicians include the following: early and differential diagnosis of arthritis, evaluation of disease activity, prognosis, assessment of treatment efficacy, assessment of remission, and evaluation of subclinical disease. MRI is probably the best imaging method to study disease activity in RA, because it can study all the joints with similar efficacy, has been sufficiently standardised, and yields data on inflammation that can be quantified. Different methods, developed to score synovitis activity, are increasingly used in clinical trials. The main application of PET/CT in rheumatology is the diagnosis and follow-up of large vessel vasculitis. More recently, also RA disease activity has been evaluated, allowing a panoramic view of the patient. Molecular imaging studies molecular and cellular processes in intact living organisms in a non-invasive fashion. In fluorescence, dyes, that emit light upon excitation by a light source and are read by a camera, can be used to show inflamed areas where neoangiogenesis, vasodilatation, and increased vessel permeability are present. These dyes can be coupled with different compounds including antibodies and drugs.


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