How echogenic is echogenic? Quantitative acoustics of the renal cortex

Am J Kidney Dis. 2001 Apr;37(4):706-11. doi: 10.1016/s0272-6386(01)80118-9.


The echogenicity of the cortex is an important parameter in interpreting renal sonograms that suggest changes in cortical structure. Echogenicity is currently measured qualitatively, and no attempts have been made at quantification. We developed a method to quantify renal cortical echogenicity in reference to the liver and evaluated its reproducibility, dependence on scanning variables, and potential utility. Sonograms of the right kidney were digitized, and the mean pixel density of regions of the renal cortex and liver was measured and normalized to the gray scale. Echogenicity was expressed as the ratio of the brightness (inverse of mean pixel density) of the cortex to that of the liver. The mean coefficient of variation among measurements performed on multiple sonograms from the same study was 2.8%, and the coefficient of variation among multiple measurements performed on the same kidney over 1 year was 1.8%. The correlation between measurements obtained by two different individuals on identical images was 0.92, with a mean variation of 3.0%. Echogenicity was not significantly affected by type of scanner or probe frequency, but varied inversely with gain. However, the effect of gain was very small within the useful range. Water loading after an overnight fast increased echogenicity in all cases, with a mean increase of 6.4%. Echogenicity of normal kidneys was significantly less than that of the liver (range, 0.810 to 0.987), and in clinical sonograms analyzed retrospectively but blindly, echogenicity correlated with the qualitative gradations of echogenicity originally assigned. The most echogenic kidneys were 62% brighter than normal kidneys, many times greater than the variability of the measurement. We conclude that quantification of renal cortical echogenicity is feasible and reproducible and may be useful in detecting and following renal disease. Echogenicity of the renal cortex is less than that of the liver in healthy subjects and is influenced by the state of diuresis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Diuresis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / statistics & numerical data
  • Kidney Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Kidney Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Kidney Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Liver / diagnostic imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Observer Variation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Ultrasonography / methods
  • Ultrasonography / standards
  • Ultrasonography / statistics & numerical data
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology