Reasons for performing study: There is limited knowledge about both histological features in early navicular disease and what histological features are represented by increased signal intensity in fat-suppressed magnetic resonance (MR) images of the navicular bone.
Objective: To characterise increased signal intensity in the spongiosa of the navicular bone in fat-suppressed MR images and to compare this with histopathology; and to compare objective grading of all aspects of the navicular bone on MR images with histological findings.
Methods: One or both front feet of 22 horses with foot pain and a median lameness duration of 3 months were examined using high-field MR imaging (MRI) and histopathology. The dorsal, palmar, proximal and distal borders of the navicular bone and the spongiosa were assigned an MRI grade (0–3) and a histological grade and compared statistically.
Results: Increased signal intensity in the spongiosa of the navicular bone was associated with a variety of abnormalities, including fat atrophy, with lipocytes showing loss of definition of cytoplasmic borders, a proliferation of capillaries within the altered marrow fat, perivascular or interstitial oedema, enlarged intertrabecular bone spaces, fibroplasia and thinned trabeculae showing loss of bone with irregularly spiculated edges of moth-eaten appearance. There were significant associations among histological lesions of the fibrocartilage, calcified cartilage and subchondral bone. There were also significant associations between MRI grading of the spongiosa and both histological marrow fat grade and the combined maximum of the MRI grades for the fibrocartilage.
Conclusions and potential relevance: Increased signal intensity in the spongiosa of the navicular bone in fat-suppressed MR images may occur in association with lesions of the fibrocartilage with or without subchondral bone or may represent a separate disease entity, particularly if diffuse, reflecting a variety of alterations of trabecular bone and marrow fat architecture.