Introduction: Atrophy of the spinal cord is known to occur in multiple sclerosis (MS). The mean upper cervical cord area (MUCCA) can be used to measure this atrophy. Currently, several (semi-)automated methods for MUCCA measurement exist, but validation in clinical magnetic resonance (MR) images is lacking.
Methods: Five methods to measure MUCCA (SCT-PropSeg, SCT-DeepSeg, NeuroQLab, Xinapse JIM and ITK-SNAP) were investigated in a predefined upper cervical cord region. First, within-scanner reproducibility and between-scanner robustness were assessed using intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC) and Dice's similarity index (SI) in scan-rescan 3DT1-weighted images (brain, including cervical spine using a head coil) performed on three 3 T MR machines (GE MR750, Philips Ingenuity, Toshiba Vantage Titan) in 21 subjects with MS and 6 healthy controls (dataset A). Second, sensitivity of MUCCA measurement to lesions in the upper cervical cord was assessed with cervical 3D T1-weighted images (3 T GE HDxT using a head-neck-spine coil) in 7 subjects with MS without and 14 subjects with MS with cervical lesions (dataset B), using ICC and SI with manual reference segmentations.
Results: In dataset A, MUCCA differed between MR machines (p < 0.001) and methods (p < 0.001) used, but not between scan sessions. With respect to MUCCA values, Xinapse JIM showed the highest within-scanner reproducibility (ICC absolute agreement = 0.995) while Xinapse JIM and SCT-PropSeg showed the highest between-scanner robustness (ICC consistency = 0.981 and 0.976, respectively). Reproducibility of segmentations between scan sessions was highest in Xinapse JIM and SCT-PropSeg segmentations (median SI ≥ 0.921), with a significant main effect of method (p < 0.001), but not of MR machine or subject group. In dataset B, SI with manual outlines did not differ between patients with or without cervical lesions for any of the segmentation methods (p > 0.176). However, there was an effect of method for both volumetric and voxel wise agreement of the segmentations (both p < 0.001). Highest volumetric and voxel wise agreement was obtained with Xinapse JIM (ICC absolute agreement = 0.940 and median SI = 0.962).
Conclusion: Although MUCCA is highly reproducible within a scanner for each individual measurement method, MUCCA differs between scanners and between methods. Cervical cord lesions do not affect MUCCA measurement performance.
Keywords: Atrophy; Cervical cord; MUCCA; Multiple sclerosis; Spinal cord.
Copyright © 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.