Radiologic evidence of air trapping (AT) on expiratory computed tomography (CT) scans is associated with early pulmonary dysfunction in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). However, standard techniques for quantitative assessment of AT are highly variable, resulting in limited efficacy for monitoring disease progression.
To investigate the effectiveness of a convolutional neural network (CNN) model for quantifying and monitoring AT, and to compare it with other quantitative AT measures obtained from threshold-based techniques.
Paired volumetric whole lung inspiratory and expiratory CT scans were obtained at four time points (0, 3, 12 and 24 months) on 36 subjects with mild CF lung disease. A densely connected CNN (DN) was trained using AT segmentation maps generated from a personalized threshold-based method (PTM). Quantitative AT (QAT) values, presented as the relative volume of AT over the lungs, from the DN approach were compared to QAT values from the PTM method. Radiographic assessment, spirometric measures, and clinical scores were correlated to the DN QAT values using a linear mixed effects model.
QAT values from the DN were found to increase from 8.65% ± 1.38% to 21.38% ± 1.82%, respectively, over a two-year period. Comparison of CNN model results to intensity-based measures demonstrated a systematic drop in the Dice coefficient over time (decreased from 0.86 ± 0.03 to 0.45 ± 0.04). The trends observed in DN QAT values were consistent with clinical scores for AT, bronchiectasis, and mucus plugging. In addition, the DN approach was found to be less susceptible to variations in expiratory deflation levels than the threshold-based approach.
The CNN model effectively delineated AT on expiratory CT scans, which provides an automated and objective approach for assessing and monitoring AT in CF patients.

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