Quantification of cervical spine muscle fat: A comparison between T1-weighted and multi-echo gradient echo imaging using a variable projection algorithm (VARPRO)

James M. Elliott*, David M. Walton, Alfred Rademaker, Todd B. Parrish

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Background: Previous data using T1-weighted MRI demonstrated neck muscle fat infiltration (MFI) in patients with poor functional recovery following whiplash. Such findings do not occur in those with milder symptoms of whiplash, chronic non-traumatic neck pain or healthy controls, suggesting traumatic factors play a role. Muscle degeneration could potentially represent a quantifiable marker of poor recovery, but the temporal constraints of running a T1-weighted sequence and performing the subsequent analysis for muscle fat may be a barrier for clinical translation. The purpose of this preliminary study was to evaluate, quantify and compare MFI for the cervical multifidus muscles with T1-weighted imaging and a more rapid quantitative 3D multi-echo gradient echo (GRE) Dixon based method in healthy subjects.Methods: 5 asymptomatic participants with no history of neck pain underwent cervical spine MRI with a Siemens 3 Tesla system. The muscle and fat signal intensities on axial spin-echo T1-weighted images were quantitatively classified for the cervical multifidii from C3-C7, bilaterally. Additional axial GRE Dixon based data for fat and water quantification were used for comparison via paired t-tests. Inter-tester reliability for fat and water measures with GRE images were examined using 1) Pearson's Intra-class correlation coefficient 2) Bland-Altman Plots and 3) Lin's-Concordance Coefficient. P < 0.05 was used to indicate significance.Results: Total mean (SD) MFI (C3-C7) for the multifidii obtained with T1-weighted imaging and GRE were 18.4% (3.3) (range 14-22%) and 18.8% (2.9) (range 15-22%), respectively. The Pearson correlation coefficients for inter-tester reliability on the GRE sequences for the C3-C7 multifidii ranged from .83 - .99, indicating high levels of agreement with segmental MFI measures. Bland-Altman Plots revealed all data points were within 2 SDs and concordance was established between 2-blinded raters, suggesting good agreement between two raters measuring fat and water with GRE imaging.Conclusions: Results of this preliminary study demonstrate reliability between 2 raters of varying experience for MRI analysis of MFI with 3D GRE MRI. The quantification of MFI for healthy cervical musculature is comparable to T1-weighted images. Inclusion of larger samples of symptomatic data and histological comparison with the reference standard biopsy is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number30
JournalBMC Medical Imaging
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 11 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging

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