Interobserver variability among expert readers quantifying plaque volume and plaque characteristics on coronary CT angiography: a CLARIFY trial sub-study

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Clinical imaging






Artificial intelligence; Atherosclerosis; CCTA; Coronary artery disease; Coronary computed tomography angiography; Expert readers; High risk plaque; Plaque volume; QCT


BACKGROUND: The difference between expert level (L3) reader and artificial intelligence (AI) performance for quantifying coronary plaque and plaque components is unknown. OBJECTIVE: This study evaluates the interobserver variability among expert readers for quantifying the volume of coronary plaque and plaque components on coronary computed tomographic angiography (CCTA) using an artificial intelligence enabled quantitative CCTA analysis software as a reference (AI-QCT). METHODS: This study uses CCTA imaging obtained from 232 patients enrolled in the CLARIFY (CT EvaLuation by ARtificial Intelligence For Atherosclerosis, Stenosis and Vascular MorphologY) study. Readers quantified overall plaque volume and the % breakdown of noncalcified plaque (NCP) and calcified plaque (CP) on a per vessel basis. Readers categorized high risk plaque (HRP) based on the presence of low-attenuation-noncalcified plaque (LA-NCP) and positive remodeling (PR; ≥1.10). All CCTAs were analyzed by an FDA-cleared software service that performs AI-driven plaque characterization and quantification (AI-QCT) for comparison to L3 readers. Reader generated analyses were compared among readers and to AI-QCT generated analyses. RESULTS: When evaluating plaque volume on a per vessel basis, expert readers achieved moderate to high interobserver consistency with an intra-class correlation coefficient of 0.78 for a single reader score and 0.91 for mean scores. There was a moderate trend between readers 1, 2, and 3 and AI with spearman coefficients of 0.70, 0.68 and 0.74, respectively. There was high discordance between readers and AI plaque component analyses. When quantifying %NCP v. %CP, readers 1, 2, and 3 achieved a weighted kappa coefficient of 0.23, 0.34 and 0.24, respectively, compared to AI with a spearman coefficient of 0.38, 0.51, and 0.60, respectively. The intra-class correlation coefficient among readers for plaque composition assessment was 0.68. With respect to HRP, readers 1, 2, and 3 achieved a weighted kappa coefficient of 0.22, 0.26, and 0.17, respectively, and a spearman coefficient of 0.36, 0.35, and 0.44, respectively. CONCLUSION: Expert readers performed moderately well quantifying total plaque volumes with high consistency. However, there was both significant interobserver variability and high discordance with AI-QCT when quantifying plaque composition.