A fully automated deep learning pipeline for micro-CT-imaging-based densitometry of lung fibrosis murine models

Respir Res. 2022 Nov 11;23(1):308. doi: 10.1186/s12931-022-02236-x.


Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, the archetype of pulmonary fibrosis (PF), is a chronic lung disease of a poor prognosis, characterized by progressively worsening of lung function. Although histology is still the gold standard for PF assessment in preclinical practice, histological data typically involve less than 1% of total lung volume and are not amenable to longitudinal studies. A miniaturized version of computed tomography (µCT) has been introduced to radiologically examine lung in preclinical murine models of PF. The linear relationship between X-ray attenuation and tissue density allows lung densitometry on total lung volume. However, the huge density changes caused by PF usually require manual segmentation by trained operators, limiting µCT deployment in preclinical routine. Deep learning approaches have achieved state-of-the-art performance in medical image segmentation. In this work, we propose a fully automated deep learning approach to segment right and left lung on µCT imaging and subsequently derive lung densitometry. Our pipeline first employs a convolutional network (CNN) for pre-processing at low-resolution and then a 2.5D CNN for higher-resolution segmentation, combining computational advantage of 2D and ability to address 3D spatial coherence without compromising accuracy. Finally, lungs are divided into compartments based on air content assessed by density. We validated this pipeline on 72 mice with different grades of PF, achieving a Dice score of 0.967 on test set. Our tests demonstrate that this automated tool allows for rapid and comprehensive analysis of µCT scans of PF murine models, thus laying the ground for its wider exploitation in preclinical settings.

Keywords: Deep learning; Drug discovery; Micro-computed tomography; Preclinical; Segmentation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Deep Learning*
  • Densitometry
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Mice
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis* / diagnostic imaging
  • X-Ray Microtomography