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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Evaluation of Intra- and Interscanner Reliability of MRI Protocols for Spinal Cord Gray Matter and Total Cross-Sectional Area Measurements.

  • Author(s): Papinutto, Nico
  • Henry, Roland G
  • et al.


In vivo quantification of spinal cord atrophy in neurological diseases using MRI has attracted increasing attention.


To compare across different platforms the most promising imaging techniques to assess human spinal cord atrophy.

Study type

Test/retest multiscanner study.


Twelve healthy volunteers.

Field strength/sequence

Three different 3T scanner platforms (Siemens, Philips, and GE) / optimized phase sensitive inversion recovery (PSIR), T1 -weighted (T1 -w), and T2 *-weighted (T2 *-w) protocols.


On all images acquired, two operators assessed contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) between gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM), and between WM and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF); one experienced operator measured total cross-sectional area (TCA) and GM area using JIM and the Spinal Cord Toolbox (SCT).

Statistical tests

Coefficient of variation (COV); intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC); mixed effect models; analysis of variance (t-tests).


For all the scanners, GM/WM CNR was higher for PSIR than T2 *-w (P < 0.0001) and WM/CSF CNR for T1 -w was the highest (P < 0.0001). For TCA, using JIM, median COVs were smaller than 1.5% and ICC >0.95, while using SCT, median COVs were in the range 2.2-2.75% and ICC 0.79-0.95. For GM, despite some failures of the automatic segmentation, median COVs using SCT on T2 *-w were smaller than using JIM manual PSIR segmentations. In the mixed effect models, the subject was always the main contributor to the variance of area measurements and scanner often contributed to TCA variance (P < 0.05). Using JIM, TCA measurements on T2 *-w were different than on PSIR (P = 0.0021) and T1 -w (P = 0.0018), while using SCT, no notable differences were found between T1 -w and T2 *-w (P = 0.18). JIM and SCT-derived TCA were not different on T1 -w (P = 0.66), while they were different for T2 *-w (P < 0.0001). GM area derived using SCT/T2 *-w versus JIM/PSIR were different (P < 0.0001).

Data conclusion

The present work sets reference values for the magnitude of the contribution of different effects to cord area measurement intra- and interscanner variability.

Level of evidence

1 Technical Efficacy: Stage 4 J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2019;49:1078-1090.

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