Purpose: The goal of this work was to investigate the effects of MRI surface coils on attenuation-corrected PET emission data. The authors studied the cases where either an MRI or a CT scan would be used to provide PET attenuation correction (AC). Combined MR/PET scanners that use the MRI for PET AC (MR-AC) face the challenge of absent surface coils in MR images and thus cannot directly account for attenuation in the coils. Combining MR and PET images could be achieved by transporting the subject on a stereotactically registered table between independent MRI and PET scanners. In this case, conventional PET CT-AC methods could be used. A challenge here is that high atomic number materials within MR coils cause artifacts in CT images and CT based AC is typically not validated for coil materials.
Methods: The authors evaluated PET artifacts when MR coils were absent from AC data (MR-AC), or when coil attenuation was measured by CT scanning (CT-AC). They scanned PET phantoms with MR surface coils on a clinical PET/CT system and used CT-AC to reconstruct PET data. The authors then omitted the coil from the CT-AC image to mimic the MR-AC scenario. Images were acquired using cylinder and anthropomorphic phantoms. They evaluated and compared the following five scenarios: (1) A uniform cylinder phantom and head coil scanned and reconstructed using CT-AC; (2) similar emission data (with head coil present) were reconstructed without the head coil in the AC data; (3) the same cylinder scanned without the head coil present (reference scan); (4) a PET torso phantom with a full MR torso coil present in both PET and CT; (5) only half of the separable torso coil present in the PET/CT acquisition. The authors also performed analytic simulations of the first three scenarios.
Results: Streak artifacts were present in CT images containing MR surface coils due to metal components. These artifacts persisted after the CT images were converted for PET AC. The artifacts were significantly reduced when half of the separable coil was removed during the scan. CT scans tended to over-estimate the linear attenuation coefficient (micro) of the metal components when using conventional methods for converting from CT number to micro(511 keV). Artifacts were visible outside the phantom in some of the PET emission images, corresponding to the MRI coil geometry. However, only subtle artifacts were apparent in the emission images inside the phantoms. On the other hand, the PET emission image quantitative accuracy was significantly affected: the activity was underestimated by 19% when AC did not include the head coil, and overestimated by 28% when the CT-AC included the head coil.
Conclusions: The presence of MR coils during PET or PET/CT scanning can cause subtle artifacts and potentially important quantification errors. Alternative CT techniques that mitigate artifacts should be used to improve AC accuracy. When possible, removing segments of an MR coil prior to the PET/CT exam is recommended. Further, MR coils could be redesigned to reduce artifacts by rearranging placement of the most attenuating materials.