Internal calibration for opportunistic computed tomography muscle density analysis

PLoS One. 2022 Oct 17;17(10):e0273203. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0273203. eCollection 2022.


Introduction: Muscle weakness can lead to reduced physical function and quality of life. Computed tomography (CT) can be used to assess muscle health through measures of muscle cross-sectional area and density loss associated with fat infiltration. However, there are limited opportunities to measure muscle density in clinically acquired CT scans because a density calibration phantom, allowing for the conversion of CT Hounsfield units into density, is typically not included within the field-of-view. For bone density analysis, internal density calibration methods use regions of interest within the scan field-of-view to derive the relationship between Hounsfield units and bone density, but these methods have yet to be adapted for muscle density analysis. The objective of this study was to design and validate a CT internal calibration method for muscle density analysis.

Methodology: We CT scanned 10 bovine muscle samples using two scan protocols and five scan positions within the scanner bore. The scans were calibrated using internal calibration and a reference phantom. We tested combinations of internal calibration regions of interest (e.g., air, blood, bone, muscle, adipose).

Results: We found that the internal calibration method using two regions of interest, air and adipose or blood, yielded accurate muscle density values (< 1% error) when compared with the reference phantom. The muscle density values derived from the internal and reference phantom calibration methods were highly correlated (R2 > 0.99). The coefficient of variation for muscle density across two scan protocols and five scan positions was significantly lower for internal calibration (mean = 0.33%) than for Hounsfield units (mean = 6.52%). There was no difference between coefficient of variation for the internal calibration and reference phantom methods.

Conclusions: We have developed an internal calibration method to produce accurate and reliable muscle density measures from opportunistic computed tomography images without the need for calibration phantoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Density
  • Calibration
  • Cattle
  • Muscles
  • Phantoms, Imaging
  • Quality of Life*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed* / methods

Grant support

ACJS and MTK are supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC, Canada) fellowships. JJT is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Postdoctoral Fellowship. Study funding was provided by NSERC Discovery Grants (RGPIN-2019-04135; RGPIN-2018-03908) and the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research Rising Star Award (SLM). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.