Feasibility study for evaluating lumbar intervertebral disc degeneration using histogram analysis of T2* values



To evaluate the feasibility of histogram analysis of T2* value for the detection and grading of degenerative lumbar intervertebral discs (IVDs) and for the characterization of microstructural heterogeneity of discs.


Two hundred fourteen lumbar IVDs of 44 subjects with chronic low back pain were examined using sagittal T2WI and axial T2* mapping. All IVDs were classified according to the Pfirrmann grade on T2WI. The correlations between histogram-derived parameters based on T2* values (T2*-HPs) of IVDs and Pfirrmann grade as well as between “red zone ratio” (area of “red zone” on T2* color maps over cross-sectional area of corresponding IVDs) and Pfirrmann grade were calculated.


The agreement for Pfirrmann grade of IVDs was excellent (κ = 0.808, P < 0.001). The consistency of the measured T2*-HPs was excellent, with ICCs ranging from 0.828–0.960. Each histogram-derived parameter had a statistically significant relationship with Pfirrmann grade (P < 0.001). The bright “red zone” on T2* color maps of IVDs displayed as a separated peak relative to the rest of voxels in histograms. The mean area ratio of “red zone” over the corresponding IVD was 9.234% ± 6.680 and ranged from 0.517% to 30.598%. The “red zone ratio” was highly related to Pfirrmann grade (r = − 0.732, P < 0.001).


Histogram analysis of T2* value is an effective tool for the detection and grading of degenerative IVDs. Identification of the “red zone” may provide new breakthroughs in the study of disc degeneration initiation and generate new hypotheses in anatomical and histological studies of IVDs.

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We thank Weiyin Vivian Liu from GE health for her excellent technical support and advice on the manuscript. We also acknowledge Professor John Morelli for critically reviewing the manuscript.


This research was supported by projects of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) (Nos. 31630025 and 81930045).

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Correspondence to Xiaoming Li.

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Liang, X., Xie, R., Hou, B. et al. Feasibility study for evaluating lumbar intervertebral disc degeneration using histogram analysis of T2* values. Eur Spine J (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00586-020-06476-7

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  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Histogram analysis
  • Intervertebral discs
  • T2* mapping
  • Degeneration