MR imaging of the ankle at 3 Tesla and 1.5 Tesla: protocol optimization and application to cartilage, ligament and tendon pathology in cadaver specimens.
The objective of this study was to optimize ankle joint MR imaging in volunteers at 1.5 Tesla (T) and 3.0 T, and to compare these optimized sequences concerning image quality and performance in assessing cartilage, ligament and tendon pathology in fresh human cadaver specimens. Initially our clinical ankle protocol consisting of T1-weighted (-w), fat-saturated (fs) T2-w, and short tau inversion-recovery fast spinecho (FSE) sequences was optimized at 1.5 T and 3.0 T by two radiologists. For dedicated cartilage imaging, fs-intermediate (IM)-w FSE, fs spoiled gradient echo, and balanced free-precession steady-state sequences were optimized. Using the optimized sequences, thirteen cadaver ankle joints were imaged. Four radiologists independently assessed these images concerning image quality and pathology. All radiologists consistently rated image quality higher at 3.0 T (all sequences p<0.05). For detecting cartilage pathology, diagnostic performance was significantly higher at 3.0 T (ROC-values up to 0.93 vs. 0.77; p<0.05); the fs-IM FSE sequence showed highest values among the different sequences. Average sensitivity for detecting tendon pathology was 63% at 3.0 T vs. 41% at 1.5 T and was significantly higher at 3.0 T for 2 out of 4 radiologists (p<0.05). Compared to 1.5 T, imaging of the ankle joint at 3.0 T significantly improved image quality and diagnostic performance in assessing cartilage pathology.