The impact of MR-based attenuation correction in spinal cord FDG-PET/MR imaging for neurological studies

Valentina Brancato, Pasquale Borrelli, Vincenzo Alfano, Marco Picardi, Mario Mascalchi, Emanuele Nicolai, Marco Salvatore, Marco Aiello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Positron emission tomography (PET) attenuation correction (AC) in positron emission tomography-magnetic resonance (PET/MR) scanners constitutes a critical and barely explored issue in spinal cord investigation, mainly due to the limitations in accounting for highly attenuating bone structures which surround the spinal canal. Our study aims at evaluating the clinical suitability of MR-driven AC (MRAC) for 18-fluorodeoxy-glucose positron emission tomography (18F-FDG-PET) in spinal cord. Methods: Thirty-six patients, undergoing positron emission tomography-computed tomography (PET/CT) and PET/MR in the same session for oncological examination, were retrospectively analyzed. For each patient, raw PET data from PET/MR scanner were reconstructed with 4- and 5-class MRAC maps, generated by hybrid PET/MR system (PET_MRAC4 and PET_MRAC5, respectively, where PET_MRAC is PET images reconstructed using MR-based attenuation correction map), and an AC map derived from CT data after a custom co-registration pipeline (PET_rCTAC, where PET_rCTAC is PET images reconstructed using CT-based attenuation correction map), which served as reference. Mean PET standardized uptake values ((Formula presented.)) were extracted from the three reconstructed PET images by regions of interest (ROIs) identified on T2-weighted MRI, in the spinal cord, lumbar cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and vertebral marrow at five levels (C2, C5, T6, T12, and L3). (Formula presented.) values from PET_MRAC4 and PET_MRAC5 were compared with each other and with the reference by means of paired t-test, and correlated using Pearson's correlation (r) to assess their consistency. Cohen's d was calculated to assess the magnitude of differences between PET images. Results: (Formula presented.) values from PET_MRAC4 were lower than those from PET_MRAC5 in almost all analyzed ROIs, with a mean difference ranging from 0.03 to 0.26 (statistically significant in the vertebral marrow at C2 and C5, spinal cord at T6 and T2, and CSF at L3). This was also confirmed by the effect size, with highest values at low spinal levels (d = 0.45 at T12 in spinal cord, d = 0.95 at L3 in CSF). (Formula presented.) values from PET_MRAC4 and PET_MRAC5 showed a very good correlation (0.81 < r < 0.97, p < 0.05) in all spinal ROIs. Underestimation of (Formula presented.) between PET_MRAC4 and PET_rCTAC was observed at each level, with a mean difference ranging from 0.02 to 0.32 (statistically significant in the vertebral marrow at C2 and T6, and CSF at L3). Although PET_MRAC5 underestimates PET_rCTAC (mean difference ranging from 0.02 to 0.3), an overall decrease in effect size could be observed for PET_MRAC5, mainly at lower spinal levels (T12, L3). (Formula presented.) from both PET_MRAC4 and PET_MRAC5 methods showed r value from good to very good with respect to PET_rCTAC (0.67 < r < 0.9 and 0.73 < r < 0.94, p < 0.05, respectively). Conclusions: Our results showed that neglecting bones in AC can underestimate the FDG uptake measurement of the spinal cord. The inclusion of bones in MRAC is far from negligible and improves the AC in spinal cord, mainly at low spinal levels. Therefore, care must be taken in the spinal canal region, and the use of AC map reconstruction methods accounting for bone structures could be beneficial.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5924-5934
Number of pages11
JournalMedical Physics
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • attenuation correction
  • multimodal coregistration
  • PET/MR
  • spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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