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# A method of localization and segmentation of intervertebral discs in spine MRI based on Gabor filter bank

- Xinjian Zhu
^{1}, - Xuan He
^{2}, - Pin Wang
^{2}, - Qinghua He
^{1}, - Dandan Gao
^{1}, - Jiwei Cheng
^{3}Email author and - Baoming Wu
^{1}Email author

**Received: **17 November 2015

**Accepted: **14 March 2016

**Published: **22 March 2016

## Abstract

### Background

Spine magnetic resonance image (MRI) plays a very important role in the diagnosis of various spinal diseases, such as disc degeneration, scoliosis, and osteoporosis. Accurate localization and segmentation of the intervertebral disc (IVD) in spine MRI can help accelerate the diagnosis time and assist in the treatment by providing quantitative parameters. In this paper, a method based on Gabor filter bank is proposed for IVD localization and segmentation.

### Methods

First, the structural features of IVDs are extracted using a Gabor filter bank. Second, the Gabor features of spine are calculated and spinal curves are detected. Third, the Gabor feature images (GFI) of IVDs are calculated and adjusted according to the spinal curves. Fourth, the IVDs are localized by clustering analysis with GFI. Finally, an optimum grayscale-based algorithm with self-adaptive threshold, combined with the localization results and Gabor features of the spine, is performed for IVDs segmentation.

### Results

The proposed method is verified by an MRI dataset consisting of 278 IVDs from 37 patients. The accuracy of localization is 98.23 % and the dice similarity index for segmentation evaluation is 0.9237.

### Conclusions

The proposed Gabor filter based method is effective for IVD localization and segmentation. It would be useful in computer-aided diagnosis of IVD diseases and computer-assisted spine surgery.

## Keywords

## Background

Spinal diseases, such as low-back pain (LBP), are common chronic diseases and are harmful to human health. LBP is a common symptom with considerable social and economic repercussions [1]. LBP is experienced by 25 to 50 % of the adult population in the United States. The healthcare costs for spine pain (mainly for LBP) is increasing every year in the United States [2]. The degeneration of intervertebral discs (IVDs) is the main factor resulting in chronic LBP and disability [3]. Analysis of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), including disc localization and segmentation, is the main tool to assess degenerative disk disease and evaluate the spinal cord, ligaments, and lesions, as it provides high-resolution, high-contrast images in serial contiguous slices [4].

Previously, disc localization and segmentation in spine MRI was performed by the radiologists manually, and the results depended on the a priori knowledge and experience. Additionally, manual localization and segmentation is laborious and lacks reproducibility between observers. Therefore, it is necessary to develop methods to localize and segment the IVDs automatically. An accurate localization and segmentation with computer-aided diagnosis (CAD) for discs in spine MRI would be useful in the quantification of disc degeneration, diagnosis of the disease, and computer-assisted spine surgery [5–7]. But, the differences in size, shape, appearance, intensity of different IVDs, and the ambiguous IVD boundaries and similar intensity with surrounding tissues may increase the difficulty of recognition.

Model-based methods are often used to analyze IVDs in past years. Alomari et al. [6] proposed a two-level probabilistic model for localization of discs from MRI. Michopoulou et al. [7] also presented a semiautomatic approach to segment both normal and degenerated lumbar IVDs. Peng et al. [8] used a model-based searching method to localize whole spine discs. Castro et al. [9] segmented the IVDs using active contour models and fuzzy C-means. Haq et al. [10] proposed a segmentation approach based on the discrete simplex surface model. Law et al. [11] employed a novel anisotropic-oriented flux model to segment the IVDs. These methods are effective for IVDs with CAD, but need manual operations or user-controlled manners to refine the results.

Many other methods have attracted attention because of their potential implications. Chevrefils et al. [12] used a watershed transform and morphological operations to locate regions containing structures of interest. The drawback of this method is the over-segmentation. Neubert et al. [13, 14] proposed an automated approach to extract the 3D segmentations and localization of lumbar and thoracic IVDs using statistical shape analysis and registration of grey level profiles.

Some methods based on machine and deep learning have recently been proposed. Oktay et al. [15] proposed a SVM-based Markov random field method to label the lumbar discs. However, they only detect six discs with their graphical model and require the existence of both T1 and T2 scans to detect the spinal cord. Ghosh et al. [5, 16] achieved the localization of lumbar discs using histogram of oriented gradients along with SVM. Furthermore, a method is proposed to segment all the tissues simultaneously in a lumbar sagittal MRI, using an auto-context approach, instead of any explicit shape features or models. It made strong use of heuristics and information from complementary axial scans. Cheng et al. [17] used a machine-learning based technique to localize and segment the 3D IVDs from MRIs. The IVD localization was done by estimating the image displacements from a set of randomly sampled 3D image patches to the IVD center. The IVDs were segmented by classifying image pixels around disc centers as background or foreground. Kelm et al. [18] combined marginal space learning with a generative anatomical network to detect and label the IVDs. An optional case-adaptive segmentation approach was proposed to segment the IVDs and vertebrae in MRI and CT, respectively.

The presence of intensity inhomogeneities may influence the quality of intensity-based feature extraction. Extraction of information and its service for localization and segmentation of IVDs is important. Compared with other tissues in spinal MRI, IVD has the distinctly characteristic, relatively regular and similar elliptic structure. The extraction of IVD structure information, such as shape and direction, and avoiding interference from peripheral tissues is challenging. The Gabor filter, a windowed Fourier transform, derives from the work of Gabor D. Daugman [19] extended the Gabor filter to two-dimensional (2D) spatial position. Given the biological background and the optimal space and spatial-frequency localization of Gabor filter [20], it is widely used for image process applications [21–23]. When the direction and frequency of the objects in an image are consistent with those of 2D-Gabor filters, the wavelet transformation has a strong response. Since the IVDs in spinal MRI are regular and ellipse-shaped, the recognition of IVDs is possible by transformation of Gabor filtering.

We propose an unsupervised computer-aided IVD localization and segmentation method based on Gabor filter bank, which does not require any training. Among various wavelet bases, the 2D Gabor filters provide good resolution both in temporal and frequency domains, and provide the optimal basis to extract local features because of: (1) Frequency motivation: both multi-resolution and multi-orientation properties of Gabor wavelet are optimal for measuring local spatial frequencies [24]; (2) morphology motivation: it distorts the tolerance space for pattern recognition tasks [24]. The proposed method adopts Gabor filters to extract the structural features of IVDs, and localize and segment the IVDs. The information from the Gabor filter is capable of increasing the accuracy and automation degree for IVD localization and segmentation.

## Methods

### Flow diagram

### Setting of the Gabor filter

### Localization of IVDs

#### Detection of spinal curves

#### Localization of IVDs

- Step 1:Calculate the horizontal cumulative curve \(G_{h} \left( n \right)\) and the candidate vertical coordinate values. \(G_{h} \left( n \right)\) is obtained by adding each row with Eq. (5), Where \(M\) is the number of rows of the image. The coordinates of local maximum values are the candidates.$${G_{h} \left( n \right) = \sum\limits_{x = 1}^{N} {G_{Mdisc} \left( {x,n} \right),} } \quad {n = 1 \ldots M}$$(5)
- Step 2:
Calculate the coarse \(Y_{IVD}\). According to the a priori information II, the closer points merge into one. The \(Y_{IVD}\) is achieved after removing the points which do not meet the a priori information II.

- Step 3: Calculate the coarse \(X_{IVD}\). The horizontal coordinate \(X_{IVD}\) is calculated by a process similar to that for \(Y_{IVD}\), but the regions of calculation are different. The mid-values of adjacent two \(Y_{IVD}\) are taken as boundaries to intercept the IVD part. The same action is performed as Eq. (6) in columns between the two boundaries. The \(X_{IVD}\) is obtained based on the a priori information I.$${G_{v} \left( n \right) = \sum\limits_{y = 1}^{M} {G_{Mdisc} \left( {n,y} \right),} } \quad {n = 1 \ldots N}$$(6)
- Step 4:
Calculate the boxes of IVDs to correct the coarse(\(X_{IVD}\), \(Y_{IVD}\)). Based on the results of Step 3, the rectangular regions of IVDs (Fig. 4d) are found by the boundary of the local peak of \(G_{h} \left( n \right)\) (Fig. 4c) and \(G_{v} \left( n \right)\). The upwards and downwards edges of the box in Fig. 4c are calculated by the minimum points and zero points of \(G_{h} \left( n \right)\). Then the left and right edges of the box are calculated by the minimum points and zero points of \(G_{v} \left( n \right)\) limited by upwards and downwards edges. Figure 4c shows the boxes in \(G_{Mdisc}\). Figure 4d shows the boxes in the original image. The angles of IVDs are obtained by analyzing the GFIs information in the rectangular regions.

- Step 5:
Calculate the accurate center of IVDs \((X_{IVD} ,Y_{IVD} )\). The binary image of \(G_{Mdisc}\) is calculated in the boxes obtained in step 3. Figure 4e shows the superposition of the original image and the binary image. Subsequently, the corrected localization of IVDs is obtained by calculating the centroid of the binary image. As shown in Fig. 4f, the white circles are the final localization results \((X_{IVD} ,Y_{IVD} )\).

### Segmentation of IVDs

- Step 1: Delineate the candidate region of the IVD. The initial candidate region of each IVD for localization is comprised of the spine curves and the rectangular regions of IVDs (Fig. 4d). In this region, the average of GFIs of different frequencies \(\bar{G}_{\mu }\) is calculated in the direction \(\mu\). The maximum \(\bar{G}_{\mu }\) can reflect the boundary of the IVD. The \(\bar{G}_{\mu }\) in the direction \(\mu\) with \(S\) different frequencies is defined as Eq. (7).$$\bar{G}_{\mu } \left( {x,y} \right) = \frac{1}{S}\sum\limits_{v \in C} {G_{\nu ,\mu } }$$(7)
The binary image of maximum \(\bar{G}_{\mu }\) is obtained using the Otsu method. The up and down boundaries of the candidate region are comprised of the spine curves. The left and right boundaries are comprised of the fitting curve of the outer boundaries of the binary image of maximum \(\bar{G}_{\mu }\).

- Step 2:Calculate the adaptive local threshold \(T_{IVD}\). Due to the ambiguous boundary and diverse shapes of IVDs, global threshold is not appropriate to segment the IVDs. Therefore, the local threshold (\(T_{IVD}\)) of each IVD is adopted to segment the IVDs. As shown in Fig. 5, \(T_{IVD}\) is obtained by self-adaption iteration and used for segmentation of IVDs. The initial threshold is calculated by the Otsu method. \(A_{1}\) is the difference between the area of candidate region of the IVD and the area of the binary image of maximum \(\bar{G}_{\mu }\). \(A_{2}\) is 1/2 area of the binary image of maximum \(\bar{G}_{\mu }\). \(T_{1}\) and \(T_{2}\) are \(\hbox{min} (A_{1} ,A_{2} )\) and \(\hbox{max} (A_{1} ,A_{2} )\) area, respectively. The number of iterations is 30.
- Step 3:
Calculate the coarse segmentation of the IVD. The coarse segmentation results of IVDs are used in steps 2 to 5, in Fig. 5, with an adaptive local threshold \(T_{IVD}\).

- Step 4:
Post-process for IVD segmentation. The coarse segmentation result may contain holes, non-smooth areas, and superfluous portions. In order to obtain the accurate segmentation, a morphological operator is used: holes filling, erosion, dilation, and five foreground pixels on the background pixel indicate that the pixel is the foreground pixel. When a segmentation result has many connected regions, the largest region is retained.

## Results and discussion

### Ethic statement

This study is approved by the Ethics Review Board of the Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China. All records, information, and images were anonymized and de-identified prior to analysis. All patients or their legal representatives signed the written informed consent.

### Image acquisition

This dataset was composed of mid-sagittal T2-weighted (T2WI) images from 37 patients with LBP for more than 6 months. In total, 278 IVDs (T11/T12 ~ L5/S1) of MRI images were utilized for validating the proposed localization methods. All MRI images were supplied by Xinqiao Hospital, The Third Military Medical University, China. MRI was performed with a 1.5-T Signa system (General Electric Company, Milwaukee, America), and the parameters of the T2WI were: TR: 3000 ms; TE: 100 ms; FOV: 30 × 30; and number of sagittal sections: 9.

### Results of localization

In this study, 278 IVDs of MRI images from 37 patients were utilized to validate the proposed method. All methods were implemented in MATLAB R2010b. Of a total of 283 IVDs, 278 IVDs were located by our method, with only five IVDs seen outside of the localization.

Average localization error (in mm) from reference annotation to the localized positions

Disc label | Mean ± STD | Median | Max | Min |
---|---|---|---|---|

L5-S1 | 3.2258 ± 2.0326 | 3.0415 | 8.5399 | 0.7835 |

L4-L5 | 2.3505 ± 1.0514 | 2.0809 | 6.0460 | 0.6439 |

L3-L4 | 2.0117 ± 1.6307 | 1.6358 | 8.3857 | 0.2093 |

L2-L3 | 1.6300 ± 0.9993 | 1.4974 | 4.3328 | 0.2453 |

L1-L2 | 1.7608 ± 1.0563 | 1.5384 | 5.0205 | 0.0899 |

T12-L1 | 1.5694 ± 0.9160 | 1.5824 | 3.7216 | 0.1191 |

T11-T12 | 1.8817 ± 1.0163 | 1.7635 | 4.1179 | 0.3896 |

T10-T11 | 2.4007 ± 2.6023 | 1.5336 | 10.2740 | 0.3162 |

T9-T10 | 2.5622 ± 2.2372 | 1.3515 | 6.0186 | 0.5505 |

T8-T9 | 12.3583 | – | – | – |

All | 2.1327 ± 1.6337 | 2.0786 | 12.3583 | 0.0899 |

### Results of segmentation

*(DSI)*were calculated [12–15]. The \(Sen\), \(Spe\), and

*DSI*were defined as:

*DSI*with and without GFIs is 0.9237 and 0.8899, respectively. The index values show that the results with GFIs restriction have significant improvements compared with those without GFIs restriction. The results of the proposed method have good agreement with those of the manual segmentation. There was reduced probability of over- or under-segmentation.

The comparison of DSI, Sen, and Spe with and without GFIs

Methods | Labels of IVDs | Mean DSI | Mean Sen | Mean Spe |
---|---|---|---|---|

With GFIs | L5-S1 | 0.9349 | 0.9513 | 0.9986 |

L4-L5 | 0.9320 | 0.9304 | 0.9983 | |

L3-L4 | 0.9469 | 0.9541 | 0.9985 | |

L2-L3 | 0.9352 | 0.9652 | 0.9984 | |

L1-L2 | 0.9389 | 0.9608 | 0.9987 | |

T12-L1 | 0.9376 | 0.9558 | 0.9989 | |

T11-T12 | 0.9332 | 0.9451 | 0.9990 | |

T10-T11 | 0.8551 | 0.9150 | 0.9993 | |

T9-T10 | 0.8997 | 0.9107 | 0.9996 | |

Without GFIs | L5-S1 | 0.8067 | 0.7708 | 0.9991 |

L4-L5 | 0.8911 | 0.8667 | 0.9985 | |

L3-L4 | 0.9119 | 0.9269 | 0.9981 | |

L2-L3 | 0.9141 | 0.9658 | 0.9979 | |

L1-L2 | 0.8996 | 0.9475 | 0.9982 | |

T12-L1 | 0.9197 | 0.9774 | 0.9985 | |

T11-T12 | 0.9233 | 0.9662 | 0.9988 | |

T10-T11 | 0.8450 | 0.8755 | 0.9987 | |

T9-T10 | 0.8975 | 0.9908 | 0.9985 |

## Discussion and conclusion

The proposed method achieves high accuracy without the need of user interaction, technologist point, or coronal or axial slices. This benefit comes from the shape-recognition ability of the method based on Gabor filter bank. GFIs reduce the localization error by extracting the target information correctly, and correction operation reduces the impact of inaccurate IVD localization by taking all candidate points into account. In the segmentation part, the adaptive threshold based on the GFI is proposed. The GFI limits the candidate regions, which improves the accuracy of the segmentation results.

The localization and segmentation of the proposed method takes almost 10 s (the manual segmentation with a snake-based method [26] takes almost 5 min). Eight seconds are required for one image to complete the localization process, and only 2 s are required to complete the segmentation part. The main contribution to the computation time is by wavelet transformation (about 7.5 s). With the development of computer technology, our method is likely to satisfy the requirements of real-time clinical application.

The Gabor filter bank makes use of the direction and morphology of the IVDs. Due to the interference in direction and morphology in some MRIs, few IVDs were localized outside of the localization results. The results were not significantly affected by the extra localization because recognition techniques, such as areas and morphology, were added to the segmentation method. However, the localization accuracy is likely to increase even further with the use of the texture feature in this method. This method was verified with 278 IVDs from 37 patients. Further verification and improvement of the method is warranted in future studies. Additional studies with large sample sizes are necessary to use GFIs for exploring the characters of IVDs and segmentation. We plan to carry out more studies with large sample sizes. Further work also includes classifying the degree of IVD degeneration using the segmentation and curvature results. Additionally, the GFI information will be used to detect curvature of spines more accurately so diseases of the spine can be accurately diagnosed.

In conclusion, we proposed a localization and segmentation method for IVDs based on Gabor wavelet. In contrast to traditional methods, Gabor filtering for shape-representation is proposed. The results and quantitative evaluation show that this method has a high accuracy compared with manual operation. It does not need supervision or training with large datasets before use. Therefore, this method will be useful in computer-aided diagnosis of the disease and computer-assisted spine surgery.

## Declarations

### Authors’ contributions

XZ proposed the original concept of the method and draft the manuscript; XH and PW performed the statistical analysis and helped to draft the manuscript; QH and DG analyzed the parameters for the study; BW and JC gave the theoretical guidance and condition support, and are the corresponding authors; All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

### Acknowledgements

This research is funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant No. 11304382, 61108086, and the Third Military University Science Foundation under Grant No. 2012XJQ23, and the Project of State Key Laboratory of Trauma, Burns and Combined Injury of China under Grant No. SKLZZ(II)201403.

### Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

**Open Access**This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

## Authors’ Affiliations

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