Assessment of dedicated low-dose cardiac micro-CT reconstruction algorithms using the left ventricular volume of small rodents as a performance measure
Purpose: Phase-correlated microcomputed tomography (micro-CT) imaging plays an important role in the assessment of mouse models of cardiovascular diseases and the determination of functional parameters as the left ventricular volume. As the current gold standard, the phase-correlated Feldkamp reconstruction (PCF), shows poor performance in case of low dose scans, more sophisticated reconstruction algorithms have been proposed to enable low-dose imaging. In this study, the authors focus on the McKinnon-Bates (MKB) algorithm, the low dose phase-correlated (LDPC) reconstruction, and the high-dimensional total variation minimization reconstruction (HDTV) and investigate their potential to accurately determine the left ventricular volume at different dose levels from 50 to 500 mGy. The results were verified in phantom studies of a five-dimensional (5D) mathematical mouse phantom. Methods: Micro-CT data of eight mice, each administered with an x-ray dose of 500 mGy, were acquired, retrospectively gated for cardiac and respiratory motion and reconstructed using PCF, MKB, LDPC, and HDTV. Dose levels down to 50 mGy were simulated by using only a fraction of the projections. Contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) was evaluated as a measure of image quality. Left ventricular volume was determined using different segmentation algorithms (Otsu, level sets, region growing). Forward projections of the 5D mouse phantom were performed to simulate a micro-CT scan. The simulated data were processed the same way as the real mouse data sets. Results: Compared to the conventional PCF reconstruction, the MKB, LDPC, and HDTV algorithm yield images of increased quality in terms of CNR. While the MKB reconstruction only provides small improvements, a significant increase of the CNR is observed in LDPC and HDTV reconstructions. The phantom studies demonstrate that left ventricular volumes can be determined accurately at 500 mGy. For lower dose levels which were simulated for real mouse data sets, the HDTV algorithm shows the best performance. At 50 mGy, the deviation from the reference obtained at 500 mGy were less than 4%. Also the LDPC algorithm provides reasonable results with deviation less than 10% at 50 mGy while PCF and MKB reconstruction show larger deviations even at higher dose levels. Conclusions: LDPC and HDTV increase CNR and allow for quantitative evaluations even at dose levels as low as 50 mGy. The left ventricular volumes exemplarily illustrate that cardiac parameters can be accurately estimated at lowest dose levels if sophisticated algorithms are used. This allows to reduce dose by a factor of 10 compared to today's gold standard and opens new options for longitudinal studies of the heart.