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Neuroimage. 2017 Feb 15;147:788-799. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.07.062. Epub 2016 Aug 2.

Gray matter segmentation of the spinal cord with active contours in MR images.

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University of California, San Francisco, United States. Electronic address:
University of California, San Francisco, United States.
University of Colorado, Denver. Electronic address:



Fully or partially automated spinal cord gray matter segmentation techniques for spinal cord gray matter segmentation will allow for pivotal spinal cord gray matter measurements in the study of various neurological disorders. The objective of this work was multi-fold: (1) to develop a gray matter segmentation technique that uses registration methods with an existing delineation of the cord edge along with Morphological Geodesic Active Contour (MGAC) models; (2) to assess the accuracy and reproducibility of the newly developed technique on 2D PSIR T1 weighted images; (3) to test how the algorithm performs on different resolutions and other contrasts; (4) to demonstrate how the algorithm can be extended to 3D scans; and (5) to show the clinical potential for multiple sclerosis patients.


The MGAC algorithm was developed using a publicly available implementation of a morphological geodesic active contour model and the spinal cord segmentation tool of the software Jim (Xinapse Systems) for initial estimate of the cord boundary. The MGAC algorithm was demonstrated on 2D PSIR images of the C2/C3 level with two different resolutions, 2D T2* weighted images of the C2/C3 level, and a 3D PSIR image. These images were acquired from 45 healthy controls and 58 multiple sclerosis patients selected for the absence of evident lesions at the C2/C3 level. Accuracy was assessed though visual assessment, Hausdorff distances, and Dice similarity coefficients. Reproducibility was assessed through interclass correlation coefficients. Validity was assessed through comparison of segmented gray matter areas in images with different resolution for both manual and MGAC segmentations.


Between MGAC and manual segmentations in healthy controls, the mean Dice similarity coefficient was 0.88 (0.82-0.93) and the mean Hausdorff distance was 0.61 (0.46-0.76) mm. The interclass correlation coefficient from test and retest scans of healthy controls was 0.88. The percent change between the manual segmentations from high and low-resolution images was 25%, while the percent change between the MGAC segmentations from high and low resolution images was 13%. Between MGAC and manual segmentations in MS patients, the average Dice similarity coefficient was 0.86 (0.8-0.92) and the average Hausdorff distance was 0.83 (0.29-1.37) mm.


We demonstrate that an automatic segmentation technique, based on a morphometric geodesic active contours algorithm, can provide accurate and precise spinal cord gray matter segmentations on 2D PSIR images. We have also shown how this automated technique can potentially be extended to other imaging protocols.


Active contour; Gray matter; Segmentation; Spinal cord

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