Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UC San Francisco Previously Published Works bannerUCSF

Automatic detection and voxel‐wise mapping of lumbar spine Modic changes with deep learning

Published Web Location


Modic changes (MCs) are the most prevalent classification system for describing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) signal intensity changes in the vertebrae. However, there is a growing need for novel quantitative and standardized methods of characterizing these anomalies, particularly for lesions of transitional or mixed nature, due to the lack of conclusive evidence of their associations with low back pain. This retrospective imaging study aims to develop an interpretable deep learning-based detection tool for voxel-wise mapping of MCs.


Seventy-five lumbar spine MRI exams that presented with acute-to-chronic low back pain, radiculopathy, and other symptoms of the lumbar spine were enrolled. The pipeline consists of two deep convolutional neural networks to generate an interpretable voxel-wise Modic map. First, an autoencoder was trained to segment vertebral bodies from T1-weighted sagittal lumbar spine images. Next, two radiologists segmented and labeled MCs from a combined T1- and T2-weighted assessment to serve as ground truth for training a second autoencoder that performs segmentation of MCs. The voxels in the detected regions were then categorized to the appropriate Modic type using a rule-based signal intensity algorithm. Post hoc, three radiologists independently graded a second dataset with the aid of the model predictions in an artificial (AI)-assisted experiment.


The model successfully identified the presence of changes in 85.7% of samples in the unseen test set with a sensitivity of 0.71 (±0.072), specificity of 0.95 (±0.022), and Cohen's kappa score of 0.63. In the AI-assisted experiment, the agreement between the junior radiologist and the senior neuroradiologist significantly improved from Cohen's kappa score of 0.52 to 0.58 (p < 0.05).


This deep learning-based approach demonstrates substantial agreement with radiologists and may serve as a tool to improve inter-rater reliability in the assessment of MCs.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View