The aim of this study was to evaluate the diagnostic value of x-ray dark-field imaging in projection radiography-based depiction of pneumothoraces in the neonatal murine lung, a potentially life-threatening medical condition that requires a timely and correct diagnosis.Materials and Methods
By the use of a unique preclinical model, 7-day-old C57Bl/6N mice received mechanical ventilation for 2 or 8 hours with oxygen-rich gas (FIO2 = 0.4; n = 24). Unventilated mice either spontaneously breathed oxygen-rich gas (FIO2 = 0.4) for 2 or 8 hours or room air (n = 22). At the end of the experiment, lungs were inflated with a standardized volume of air after a lethal dose of pentobarbital was administered to the pups. All lungs were imaged with a prototype grating-based small-animal scanner to acquire x-ray transmission and dark-field radiographs. Image contrast between the air-filled pleural space and lung tissue was quantified for both transmission and dark-field radiograms. After the independent expert's assessment, 2 blinded readers evaluated all dark-field and transmission images for the presence or absence of pneumothoraces. Contrast ratios, diagnostic accuracy, as well as reader's confidence and interreader agreement were recorded for both imaging modalities.Results
Evaluation of both x-ray transmission and dark-field radiographs by independent experts revealed the development of a total of 10 pneumothoraces in 8 mice. Here, the contrast ratio between the air-filled pleural space of the pneumothoraces and the lung tissue was significantly higher in the dark field (8.4 ± 3.5) when compared with the transmission images (5.1 ± 2.8; P < 0.05). Accordingly, the readers' diagnostic confidence for the diagnosis of pneumothoraces was significantly higher for dark-field compared with transmission images (P = 0.001). Interreader agreement improved from moderate for the analysis of transmission images alone (κ = 0.41) to very good when analyzing dark-field images alone (κ = 0.90) or in combination with transmission images (κ = 0.88). Diagnostic accuracy significantly improved for the analysis of dark-field images alone (P = 0.04) or in combination with transmission images (P = 0.02), compared with the analysis of transmission radiographs only.Conclusions
The significant improvement in contrast ratios between lung parenchyma and free air in the dark-field images allows the facilitated detection of pneumothoraces in the newborn mouse. These preclinical experiments indicate the potential of the technique for future clinical applications.