The reference standard for spatial normalization of brain positron emission tomography(PET) images involves structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) data. However, the lack of such structural information is fairly common in clinical settings. This might lead to lack of proper image quantification and to evaluation based only on visual ratings, which does not allow research studies or clinical trials based on quantification.
PET/CT systems are widely available and CT normalization procedures need to be explored. Here we describe and validate a procedure for the spatial normalization of PETimages based on the low-dose Computed Tomography (CT) images contextually acquired for attenuation correction in PET/CT systems. We included N = 34 subjects, spanning from cognitively normal to mild cognitive impairment and dementia, who underwent amyloid-PET/CT (18F-Florbetaben) and structural MRI scans. The proposed pipeline is based on the SPM12 unified segmentation algorithm applied to low-dose CT images. The validation of the normalization pipeline focused on 1) statistical comparisons between regional and global 18F-Florbetaben-PET/CT standardized uptake value ratios (SUVrs) estimated from both CT-based and MRI-based normalized PET images (SUVrCT, SUVrMRI) and 2) estimation of the degrees of overlap between warped gray matter (GM) segmented maps derived from CT- and MRI-based spatial transformations.
We found negligible deviations between regional and global SUVrs in the two CT and MRI-based methods. SUVrCT and SUVrMRI global uptake scores showed negligible differences (mean ± sd 0.01 ± 0.03). Notably, the CT- and MRI-based warped GM maps showed excellent overlap (90% within 1 mm).
The proposed analysis pipeline, based on low-dose CT images, allows accurate spatial normalization and subsequent PET image quantification. A CT-based analytical pipeline could benefit both research and clinical practice, allowing the recruitment of larger samples and favoring clinical routine analysis.