Low-dose CT hounsfield units: a reliable methodology for assessing vertebral bone density in radiographic axial spondyloarthritis

RMD Open. 2022 Jun;8(2):e002149. doi: 10.1136/rmdopen-2021-002149.


Objective: Studying vertebral bone loss in radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (r-axSpA) has been challenging due to ectopic bone formation. We cross-sectionally analysed low-dose CT (ldCT) trabecular bone density Hounsfield units (HU) measurements and calculated inter-reader reliability at the vertebral level in patients with r-axSpA.

Methods: LdCT scans of 50 patients with r-axSpA from the sensitive imaging in ankylosing spondylitis study, a multicentre 2-year prospective cohort were included. Trabecular bone HU taken from a region of interest at the centre of each vertebra (C3-L5) were independently assessed by two trained readers. HU mean (SD), and range were provided at the vertebral level, for each reader and centre separately. Inter-reader reliability and agreement were assessed using intraclass correlation coefficients (ICC; single measurements, absolute agreement, two-way mixed effects models); smallest detectable difference and Bland-Altman plots.

Results: Overall, 1100 vertebrae were assessed by each reader. HU values decreased from cranial to caudal vertebrae. For readers 1 and 2 respectively, the highest mean (SD) HU value was obtained at C3 (354(106) and 355(108)), and the lowest at L3 (153(65) and 150 (65)). Inter-reader reliability was excellent (ICC(2,1):0.89 to 1.00). SDD varied from 4 to 8. For most vertebrae, reader 1 scored somewhat higher than reader 2 (mean difference of scores ranging from -0.6 to 2.9 HU). Bland-Altman plots showed homoscedasticity.

Conclusion: LdCT measurement of HU is a feasible method to assess vertebral bone density in r-axSpA with excellent inter-reader reliability from C3 to L5. These results warrant further validation and longitudinal assessment of reliability.

Keywords: Outcome Assessment, Health Care; ankylosing spondylitis; bone density.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Axial Spondyloarthritis*
  • Bone Density*
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Spine / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods