Improving Reliability of pQCT-Derived Muscle Area and Density Measures Using a Watershed Algorithm for Muscle and Fat Segmentation
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In peripheral quantitative computed tomography scans of the calf muscles, segmentation of muscles from subcutaneous fat is challenged by muscle fat infiltration. Threshold-based edge detection segmentation by manufacturer software fails when muscle boundaries are not smooth. This study compared the test-retest precision error for muscle-fat segmentation using the threshold-based edge detection method vs manual segmentation guided by the watershed algorithm. Three clinical populations were investigated: younger adults, older adults, and adults with spinal cord injury (SCI). The watershed segmentation method yielded lower precision error (1.18%-2.01%) and higher (p<0.001) muscle density values (70.2±9.2 mg/cm3) compared with threshold-based edge detection segmentation (1.77%-4.06% error, 67.4±10.3 mg/cm3). This was particularly true for adults with SCI (precision error improved by 1.56% and 2.64% for muscle area and density, respectively). However, both methods still provided acceptable precision with error well under 5%. Bland-Altman analyses showed that the major discrepancies between the segmentation methods were found mostly among participants with SCI where more muscle fat infiltration was present. When examining a population where fatty infiltration into muscle is expected, the watershed algorithm is recommended for muscle density and area measurement to enable the detection of smaller change effect sizes.
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