Automatic Vertebral Body Segmentation Based on Deep Learning of Dixon Images for Bone Marrow Fat Fraction Quantification

Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2020 Sep 2:11:612. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2020.00612. eCollection 2020.


Background: Bone marrow fat (BMF) fraction quantification in vertebral bodies is used as a novel imaging biomarker to assess and characterize chronic lower back pain. However, manual segmentation of vertebral bodies is time consuming and laborious. Purpose: (1) Develop a deep learning pipeline for segmentation of vertebral bodies using quantitative water-fat MRI. (2) Compare BMF measurements between manual and automatic segmentation methods to assess performance. Materials and Methods: In this retrospective study, MR images using a 3D spoiled gradient-recalled echo (SPGR) sequence with Iterative Decomposition of water and fat with Echo Asymmetry and Least-squares estimation (IDEAL) reconstruction algorithm were obtained in 57 subjects (28 women, 29 men, mean age, 47.2 ± 12.6 years). An artificial network was trained for 100 epochs on a total of 165 lumbar vertebrae manually segmented from 31 subjects. Performance was assessed by analyzing the receiver operating characteristic curve, precision-recall, F1 scores, specificity, sensitivity, and similarity metrics. Bland-Altman analysis was used to assess performance of BMF fraction quantification using the predicted segmentations. Results: The deep learning segmentation method achieved an AUC of 0.92 (CI 95%: 0.9186, 0.9195) on a testing dataset (n = 24 subjects) on classification of pixels as vertebrae. A sensitivity of 0.99 and specificity of 0.80 were achieved for a testing dataset, and a mean Dice similarity coefficient of 0.849 ± 0.091. Comparing manual and automatic segmentations on fat fraction maps of lumbar vertebrae (n = 124 vertebral bodies) using Bland-Altman analysis resulted in a bias of only -0.605% (CI 95% = -0.847 to -0.363%) and agreement limits of -3.275% and +2.065%. Automatic segmentation was also feasible in 16 ± 1 s. Conclusion: Our results have demonstrated the feasibility of automated segmentation of vertebral bodies using deep learning models on water-fat MR (Dixon) images to define vertebral regions of interest with high specificity. These regions of interest can then be used to quantify BMF with comparable results as manual segmentation, providing a framework for completely automated investigation of vertebral changes in CLBP.

Keywords: biomarkers; bone marrow fat; deep learning; magnetic resonance imaging; segmentation; spine imaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / diagnostic imaging*
  • Adult
  • Bone Marrow / diagnostic imaging*
  • Deep Learning*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spine / diagnostic imaging*