Incorporation of a biparietal narrowing metric to improve the ability of machine learning models to detect sagittal craniosynostosis with 2D photographs

Neurosurg Focus. 2023 Jun;54(6):E9. doi: 10.3171/2023.3.FOCUS2349.


Objective: Sagittal craniosynostosis is the most common form of craniosynostosis and typically results in scaphocephaly, which is characterized by biparietal narrowing, compensatory frontal bossing, and an occipital prominence. The cephalic index (CI) is a simple metric for quantifying the degree of cranial narrowing and is often used to diagnose sagittal craniosynostosis. However, patients with variant forms of sagittal craniosynostosis may present with a "normal" CI, depending on the part of the suture that is closed. As machine learning (ML) algorithms are developed to assist in the diagnosis of cranial deformities, metrics that reflect the other phenotypic features of sagittal craniosynostosis are needed. In this study the authors sought to describe the posterior arc angle (PAA), a measurement of biparietal narrowing that is obtained with 2D photographs, and elucidate the role of PAA as an adjuvant to the CI in characterizing scaphocephaly and the potential relevance of PAA in new ML model development.

Methods: The authors retrospectively reviewed 1013 craniofacial patients treated during the period from 2006 to 2021. Orthogonal top-down photographs were used to calculate the CI and PAA. Distribution densities, receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves, and chi-square analyses were used to describe the relative predictive utility of each method for sagittal craniosynostosis.

Results: In total, 1001 patients underwent paired CI and PAA measurements and a clinical head shape diagnosis (sagittal craniosynostosis, n = 122; other cranial deformity, n = 565; normocephalic, n = 314). The area under the ROC curve (AUC) for the CI was 98.5% (95% confidence interval 97.8%-99.2%, p < 0.001), with an optimum specificity of 92.6% and sensitivity of 93.4%. The PAA had an AUC of 97.4% (95% confidence interval 96.0%-98.8%, p < 0.001) with an optimum specificity of 94.9% and sensitivity of 90.2%. In 6 of 122 (4.9%) cases of sagittal craniosynostosis, the PAA was abnormal while the CI was normal. This means that adding a PAA cutoff branch to a partition model increases the detection of sagittal craniosynostosis.

Conclusions: Both CI and PAA are excellent discriminators for sagittal craniosynostosis. Using an accuracy-optimized partition model, the addition of the PAA to the CI increased model sensitivity compared to using the CI alone. Using a model that incorporates both CI and PAA could assist in the early identification and treatment of sagittal craniosynostosis via automated and semiautomated algorithms that utilize tree-based ML models.

Keywords: artificial intelligence; craniosynostosis; machine learning; posterior arc angle; sagittal craniosynostosis.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Craniosynostoses* / diagnostic imaging
  • Craniosynostoses* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Neurosurgical Procedures
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skull / surgery