Attenuation correction in 4D-PET using a single-phase attenuation map and rigidity-adaptive deformable registration

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Abstract

Purpose:

Four-dimensional positron emission tomography (4D-PET) imaging is a potential solution to the respiratory motion effect in the thoracic region. Computed tomography (CT)-based attenuation correction (AC) is an essential step toward quantitative imaging for PET. However, due to the temporal difference between 4D-PET and a single attenuation map from CT, typically available in routine clinical scanning, motion artifacts are observed in the attenuation-corrected PET images, leading to errors in tumor shape and uptake. We introduced a practical method to align single-phase CT with all other 4D-PET phases for AC.

Methods:

A penalized non-rigid Demons registration between individual 4D-PET frames without AC provides the motion vectors to be used for warping single-phase attenuation map. The non-rigid Demons registration was used to derive deformation vector fields (DVFs) between PET matched with the CT phase and other 4D-PET images. While attenuated PET images provide useful data for organ borders such as those of the lung and the liver, tumors cannot be distinguished from the background due to loss of contrast. To preserve the tumor shape in different phases, an ROI-covering tumor was excluded from nonrigid transformation. Instead the mean DVF of the central region of the tumor was assigned to all voxels in the ROI. This process mimics a rigid transformation of the tumor along with a nonrigid transformation of other organs. A 4D-XCAT phantom with spherical lung tumors, with diameters ranging from 10 to 40 mm, was used to evaluate the algorithm. The performance of the proposed hybrid method for attenuation map estimation was compared to (a) the Demons nonrigid registration only and (b) a single attenuation map based on quantitative parameters in individual PET frames.

Results:

Motion-related artifacts were significantly reduced in the attenuation-corrected 4D-PET images. When a single attenuation map was used for all individual PET frames, the normalized root-mean-square error (NRMSE) values in tumor region were 49.3% (STD: 8.3%), 50.5% (STD: 9.3%), 51.8% (STD: 10.8%) and 51.5% (STD: 12.1%) for 10-mm, 20-mm, 30-mm, and 40-mm tumors, respectively. These errors were reduced to 11.9% (STD: 2.9%), 13.6% (STD: 3.9%), 13.8% (STD: 4.8%), and 16.7% (STD: 9.3%) by our proposed method for deforming the attenuation map. The relative errors in total lesion glycolysis (TLG) values were −0.25% (STD: 2.87%) and 3.19% (STD: 2.35%) for 30-mm and 40-mm tumors, respectively, in proposed method. The corresponding values for Demons method were 25.22% (STD: 14.79%) and 18.42% (STD: 7.06%). Our proposed hybrid method outperforms the Demons method especially for larger tumors. For tumors smaller than 20 mm, nonrigid transformation could also provide quantitative results.

Conclusion:

Although non-AC 4D-PET frames include insignificant anatomical information, they are still useful to estimate the DVFs to align the attenuation map for accurate AC. The proposed hybrid method can recover the AC-related artifacts and provide quantitative AC-PET images.

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