Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common diseases in the aging population. While disease progress in humans is monitored indirectly by X-ray or MRI, small animal OA lesions detection always requires surgical intervention and histology. Here we introduce bimodal MR/NIR probes based on cartilage-targeting 1,4,7,10-tetraazacyclododecane 1,4,7,10-tetraacetic acid amide (DOTAM) that are directly administered to the joint cavity. We demonstrate applications in healthy and diseased rat joints by MRI in vivo. The same joints are inspected post-mortem by fluorescence microscopy, showing not only the precise location of the reagents but also revealing details such as focal cartilage damage and chondrophyte or osteophyte formation. This allows for determining the distinct pathological state of the disease and the regeneration capability of the animal model and will help to correctly assess the effect of potential disease modifying OA drugs (DMOADs) in the future.
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