Dual contrast in computed tomography allows earlier characterization of articular cartilage over single contrast

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Cationic computed tomography contrast agents are more sensitive for detecting cartilage degeneration than anionic or non-ionic agents. However, osteoarthritis-related loss of proteoglycans and increase in water content contrarily affect the diffusion of cationic contrast agents, limiting their sensitivity. The quantitative dual-energy computed tomography technique allows the simultaneous determination of the partitions of iodine-based cationic (CA4+) and gadolinium-based non-ionic (gadoteridol) agents in cartilage at diffusion equilibrium. Normalizing the cationic agent partition at diffusion equilibrium with that of the non-ionic agent improves diagnostic sensitivity. We hypothesize that this sensitivity improvement is also prominent during early diffusion time points and that the technique is applicable during contrast agent diffusion. To investigate the validity of this hypothesis, osteochondral plugs (d = 8 mm, N = 33), extracted from human cadaver (n = 4) knee joints, were immersed in a contrast agent bath (a mixture of CA4+ and gadoteridol) and imaged using the technique at multiple time points until diffusion equilibrium. Biomechanical testing and histological analysis were conducted for reference. Quantitative dual-energy computed tomography technique enabled earlier determination of cartilage proteoglycan content over single contrast. The correlation coefficient between human articular cartilage proteoglycan content and CA4+ partition increased with the contrast agent diffusion time. Gadoteridol normalized CA4+ partition correlated significantly (P <.05) with Mankin score at all time points and with proteoglycan content after 4 hours. The technique is applicable during diffusion, and normalization with gadoteridol partition improves the sensitivity of the CA4+ contrast agent.