H. Hebelka, K. Lagerstrand, H. Brisby, P. J. Owen, M. J. Quittner, T. Rantalainen, D. L. Belavy

September 2019, Volume 28, Issue 9, pp 2153 - 2161 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-019-06059-1

First Online: 12 July 2019

The importance of level stratification for quantitative MR studies of lumbar intervertebral discs: a cross-sectional analysis in 101 healthy adults


To investigate whether quantitative T2-times depend on lumbar intervertebral disc (IVD) level.


The lumbar spine (Th12/L1–L5/S1) of 101 participants (53.5% female, 30.0[± 3.6]years, 173.5[± 9.6]cm and 69.9[± 13.4]kg), without history of back pain, was examined on a 3T scanner with sagittal T2-mapping. All IVDs were stratified according to Pfirrmann grade and lumbar level, with mean T2-time determined for the entire IVD volume and in five subregions of interests.


Significant level-dependent T2-time differences were detected, both for the entire IVD volume and its subregions. For the entire IVD volume, Pfirrmann grade 2 IVDs displayed 9–18% higher T2-times in Th12/L1 IVDs compared to L2/L3–L5/S1 IVDs (0.001 > p < 0.004) and significantly different T2-times in L1/L2–L2/L3 IVDs compared to most of the IVDs in the lower lumbar spine. In Pfirrmann grades 1, 3 and 4 IVDs, no significant level-dependent T2-time differences were observed for the entire IVD. More pronounced results were observed when comparing IVD subregions, with significant level-dependent differences also within Pfirrmann grade 1 and grade 3 IVDs. For example, in posterior IVD subregions mean T2-time was 80–82% higher in Th12/L1 compared to L3/L4–L4/L5 Pfirrmann grade 1 IVDs (p < 0.05) and 10–14% higher in L5/S1 compared to L3/L4–L4/L5 Pfirrmann grade 3 IVDs (0.02 > p < 0.001).


Significant level-dependent T2-time differences within several Pfirrmann grades, both for the entire IVD volume and for multiple IVD subregions, were shown in this large cohort study. The T2-time differences between levels existed in both non-degenerated and degenerated IVDs. These findings show the importance of stratifying for lumbar level when quantitative IVD studies are performed using T2-mapping.

Graphic abstract

These slides can be retrieved under Electronic Supplementary Material.[Figure not available: see fulltext.]

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