Quantification of tissue magnetic susceptibility using MRI offers a non-invasive measure of important tissue components in the brain, such as iron and myelin, potentially providing valuable information about normal and pathological conditions during aging. Despite many advances made in recent years on imaging techniques of quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM), accurate and robust automated segmentation tools for QSM images that can help generate universal and sharable susceptibility measures in a biologically meaningful set of structures are still not widely available. In the present study, we developed an automated process to segment brain nuclei and quantify tissue susceptibility in these regions based on a susceptibility multi-atlas library, consisting of 10 atlases with T1-weighted images, gradient echo (GRE) magnitude images and QSM images of brains with different anatomic patterns. For each atlas in this library, 10 regions of interest in iron-rich deep gray matter structures that are better defined by QSM contrast were manually labeled, including caudate, putamen, globus pallidus internal/external, thalamus, pulvinar, subthalamic nucleus, substantia nigra, red nucleus and dentate nucleus in both left and right hemispheres. We then tested different pipelines using different combinations of contrast channels to bring the set of labels from the multi-atlases to each target brain and compared them with the gold standard manual delineation. The results showed that the segmentation accuracy using dual contrasts QSM/T1 pipeline outperformed other dual-contrast or single-contrast pipelines. The dice values of 0.77 ± 0.09 using the QSM/T1 multi-atlas pipeline rivaled with the segmentation reliability obtained from multiple evaluators with dice values of 0.79 ± 0.07 and gave comparable or superior performance in segmenting subcortical nuclei in comparison with standard FSL FIRST or recent multi-atlas package of volBrain. The segmentation performance of the QSM/T1 multi-atlas was further tested on QSM images acquired using different acquisition protocols and platforms and showed good reliability and reproducibility with average dice of 0.79 ± 0.08 to manual labels and 0.89 ± 0.04 in an inter-protocol manner. The extracted quantitative magnetic susceptibility values in the deep gray matter nuclei also correlated well between different protocols with inter-protocol correlation constants all larger than 0.97. Such reliability and performance was ultimately validated in an external dataset acquired at another study site with consistent susceptibility measures obtained using the QSM/T1 multi-atlas approach in comparison to those using manual delineation. In summary, we designed a susceptibility multi-atlas tool for automated and reliable segmentation of QSM images and for quantification of magnetic susceptibilities. It is publicly available through our cloud-based platform (www.mricloud.org). Further improvement on the performance of this multi-atlas tool is expected by increasing the number of atlases in the future.
Keywords: Atlas; Automated segmentation; QSM; SWI; Susceptibility quantification.
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