Background: To ascertain if analysis of lung density histograms in thin-section CT was more reproducible than visual assessment of lung changes in systemic sclerosis (SSc), and if such density histogram parameters as mean lung attenuation (MLA), skewness, and kurtosis could more closely reflect pulmonary function as well as exercise and quality of life impairment.
Methods: The intraoperator and interoperator reproducibility of visual and densitometric lung CT analysis in 48 SSc patients examined with CT were evaluated by means of weighted kappa statistics. Univariate and multivariate regression analyses were applied to evaluate the relationship of visual and densitometric CT measurements with functional parameters including functional residual capacity (FRC), FVC, FEV(1), diffusion capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (Dlco), 6-min walking testing (6MWT), and health-related quality of life questionnaire (QLQ) parameters.
Results: The intraoperator and interoperator reproducibility of MLA (intraobserver weighted kappa = 0.97; interobserver weighted kappa = 0.96), skewness (intraobserver weighted kappa = 0.89; interobserver weighted kappa = 0.88), and kurtosis (intraobserver weighted kappa = 0.89; interobserver weighted kappa = 0.88) were higher than those of visual assessment (intraobserver weighted kappa = 0.71; interobserver weighted kappa = 0.69). In univariate analysis, only densitometric measurements were correlated with some exercise and QLQ parameters. In multivariate analysis, MLA (square regression coefficient corrected [R(2)c] = 0.70), skewness (R(2)c = 0.78), and kurtosis (R(2)c = 0.77) were predicted by FRC, FVC, Dlco, 6MWT, and QLQ parameters, while visual assessment was associated only with FRC and FVC (R(2)c = 0.40).
Conclusions: In SSc, densitometric analysis is more reproducible than visual assessment of lung changes in thin-section CT and more closely correlated to pulmonary function testing, 6MWT, and QLQ. Density histogram parameters may be useful for cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of lung involvement in SSc.