Rationale and objectives: The aim of this work is to study how the limited spatial resolution of a computed tomographic (CT) system affects the imaging of small high-density structures. This knowledge is relevant not only to understand and interpret clinical data, but also to apply and develop quantification methods for calcifications and stented vessels.
Materials and methods: A dedicated phantom containing small differently sized aluminum cylinders was imaged on a 64-slice multidetector row CT (MDCT) while varying acquisition and reconstruction parameters from a high-resolution protocol. In addition, a bead phantom was imaged to estimate the point spread function (PSF) for the different parameter settings. The accuracy in determining object density and size was established for various imaging protocols and compared with simulations based on the estimated PSF.
Results: Attenuation values and size measurements were accurate for objects larger than two times the size of the system PSF at the full-width-at-half-maximum. For smaller objects, attenuation values were increasingly underestimated and size was increasingly overestimated. The convolution kernel had the most influence on object signal and size. Use of edge-enhancing kernels yielded more accurate size measurements and higher signal for small objects. However, their application was constrained by noise amplification and edge-ringing artifacts, which led to lower signal-to-noise ratio, degrading the visualization of low densities and small high-density objects.
Conclusion: Results presented in this report provide insight into limitations in the quantification of small high-density structures and their effect on the visualization of surrounding tissues with recently developed MDCT systems.