MRI-based attenuation correction for hybrid PET/MRI systems: a 4-class tissue segmentation technique using a combined ultrashort-echo-time/Dixon MRI sequence

Yannick Berker, Jochen Franke, André Salomon, Moritz Palmowski, Henk C W Donker, Yavuz Temur, Felix M Mottaghy, Christiane Kuhl, David Izquierdo-Garcia, Zahi A Fayad, Fabian Kiessling, Volkmar Schulz
Journal of Nuclear Medicine 2012, 53 (5): 796-804

UNLABELLED: Accurate γ-photon attenuation correction (AC) is essential for quantitative PET/MRI as there is no simple relation between MR image intensity and attenuation coefficients. Attenuation maps (μ-maps) can be derived by segmenting MR images and assigning attenuation coefficients to the compartments. Ultrashort-echo-time (UTE) sequences have been used to separate cortical bone and air, and the Dixon technique has enabled differentiation between soft and adipose tissues. Unfortunately, sequential application of these sequences is time-consuming and complicates image registration.

METHODS: A UTE triple-echo (UTILE) MRI sequence is proposed, combining UTE sampling for bone detection and gradient echoes for Dixon water-fat separation in a radial 3-dimensional acquisition (repetition time, 4.1 ms; echo times, 0.09/1.09/2.09 ms; field strength, 3 T). Air masks are derived mainly from the phase information of the first echo; cortical bone is segmented using a dual-echo technique. Soft-tissue and adipose-tissue decomposition is achieved using a 3-point Dixon-like decomposition. Predefined linear attenuation coefficients are assigned to classified voxels to generate MRI-based μ-maps. The results of 6 patients are obtained by comparing μ-maps, reciprocal sensitivity maps, reconstructed PET images, and brain region PET activities based on either CT AC, two 3-class MRI AC techniques, or the proposed 4-class UTILE AC.

RESULTS: Using the UTILE MRI sequence, an acquisition time of 214 s was achieved for the head-and-neck region with 1.75-mm isotropic resolution, compared with 164 s for a single-echo UTE scan. MRI-based reciprocal sensitivity maps show a high correlation with those derived from CT scans (R(2) = 0.9920). The same is true for PET activities (R(2) = 0.9958). An overall voxel classification accuracy (compared with CT) of 81.1% was reached. Bone segmentation is inaccurate in complex regions such as the paranasal sinuses, but brain region activities in 48 regions across 6 patients show a high correlation after MRI-based and CT-based correction (R(2) = 0.9956), with a regression line slope of 0.960. All overall correlations are higher and brain region PET activities more accurate in terms of mean and maximum deviations for the 4-class technique than for 3-class techniques.

CONCLUSION: The UTILE MRI sequence enables the generation of MRI-based 4-class μ-maps without anatomic priors, yielding results more similar to CT-based results than can be obtained with 3-class segmentation only.

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