Spectral detector CT-derived virtual non-contrast images: comparison of attenuation values with unenhanced CT

Lakshmi Ananthakrishnan, Prabhakar Rajiah, Richard Ahn, Negin Rassouli, Yin Xi, Todd C. Soesbe, Matthew A. Lewis, Robert E. Lenkinski, John R. Leyendecker, Suhny Abbara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Purpose: To assess virtual non-contrast (VNC) images obtained on a detection-based spectral detector CT scanner and determine how attenuation on VNC images derived from various phases of enhanced CT compare to those obtained from true unenhanced images. Methods: In this HIPAA compliant, IRB approved prospective multi-institutional study, 46 patients underwent pre- and post-contrast imaging on a prototype dual-layer spectral detector CT between October 2013 and November 2015, yielding 84 unenhanced and VNC pairs (25 arterial, 39 portal venous/nephrographic, 20 urographic). Mean attenuation was measured by one of three readers in the liver, spleen, kidneys, psoas muscle, abdominal aorta, and subcutaneous fat. Equivalence testing was used to determine if the mean difference between unenhanced and VNC attenuation was less than 5, 10, or 15 HU. VNC image quality was assessed on a 5 point scale. Results: Mean difference between unenhanced and VNC attenuation was <15 HU in 92.6%, <10 HU in 75.2%, and <5 HU in 44.4% of all measurements. Unenhanced and VNC attenuation were equivalent in all tissues except fat using a threshold of <10 HU difference (p < 0.05). No significant variation was seen between phases. In fat, VNC overestimated the HU relative to unenhanced images. VNC image quality was rated as excellent or good in 84% of arterial phase and 85% of nephrographic phase cases, but only 40% of urographic phase. Conclusion: VNC images derived from novel dual layer spectral detector CT demonstrate attenuation values similar to unenhanced images in all tissues evaluated except for subcutaneous fat. Further study is needed to determine if attenuation thresholds currently used clinically for common pathology should be adjusted, particularly for lesions containing fat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)702-709
Number of pages8
JournalAbdominal Radiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Dual energy
  • Dual layer detector
  • SDCT
  • Spectral detector CT
  • Unenhanced versus VNC
  • VNC
  • VNC attenuation
  • Virtual non-contrast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Gastroenterology
  • Urology


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