Quantitative analysis of MRI-guided attenuation correction techniques in time-of-flight brain PET/MRI

Abolfazl Mehranian, Hossein Arabi, Habib Zaidi
NeuroImage 2016 April 15, 130: 123-33

PURPOSE: In quantitative PET/MR imaging, attenuation correction (AC) of PET data is markedly challenged by the need of deriving accurate attenuation maps from MR images. A number of strategies have been developed for MRI-guided attenuation correction with different degrees of success. In this work, we compare the quantitative performance of three generic AC methods, including standard 3-class MR segmentation-based, advanced atlas-registration-based and emission-based approaches in the context of brain time-of-flight (TOF) PET/MRI.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Fourteen patients referred for diagnostic MRI and (18)F-FDG PET/CT brain scans were included in this comparative study. For each study, PET images were reconstructed using four different attenuation maps derived from CT-based AC (CTAC) serving as reference, standard 3-class MR-segmentation, atlas-registration and emission-based AC methods. To generate 3-class attenuation maps, T1-weighted MRI images were segmented into background air, fat and soft-tissue classes followed by assignment of constant linear attenuation coefficients of 0, 0.0864 and 0.0975 cm(-1) to each class, respectively. A robust atlas-registration based AC method was developed for pseudo-CT generation using local weighted fusion of atlases based on their morphological similarity to target MR images. Our recently proposed MRI-guided maximum likelihood reconstruction of activity and attenuation (MLAA) algorithm was employed to estimate the attenuation map from TOF emission data. The performance of the different AC algorithms in terms of prediction of bones and quantification of PET tracer uptake was objectively evaluated with respect to reference CTAC maps and CTAC-PET images.

RESULTS: Qualitative evaluation showed that the MLAA-AC method could sparsely estimate bones and accurately differentiate them from air cavities. It was found that the atlas-AC method can accurately predict bones with variable errors in defining air cavities. Quantitative assessment of bone extraction accuracy based on Dice similarity coefficient (DSC) showed that MLAA-AC and atlas-AC resulted in DSC mean values of 0.79 and 0.92, respectively, in all patients. The MLAA-AC and atlas-AC methods predicted mean linear attenuation coefficients of 0.107 and 0.134 cm(-1), respectively, for the skull compared to reference CTAC mean value of 0.138cm(-1). The evaluation of the relative change in tracer uptake within 32 distinct regions of the brain with respect to CTAC PET images showed that the 3-class MRAC, MLAA-AC and atlas-AC methods resulted in quantification errors of -16.2 ± 3.6%, -13.3 ± 3.3% and 1.0 ± 3.4%, respectively. Linear regression and Bland-Altman concordance plots showed that both 3-class MRAC and MLAA-AC methods result in a significant systematic bias in PET tracer uptake, while the atlas-AC method results in a negligible bias.

CONCLUSION: The standard 3-class MRAC method significantly underestimated cerebral PET tracer uptake. While current state-of-the-art MLAA-AC methods look promising, they were unable to noticeably reduce quantification errors in the context of brain imaging. Conversely, the proposed atlas-AC method provided the most accurate attenuation maps, and thus the lowest quantification bias.

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