Shear wave dispersion as a potential biomarker for cervical remodeling during pregnancy: evidence from a non-human primate model.
Shear wave dispersion (variation of phase velocity with frequency) occurs in tissues with layered and anisotropic microstructure and viscous components, such as the uterine cervix. This phenomenon, mostly overlooked in previous applications of cervical Shear Wave Elasticity Imaging (SWEI) for preterm birth risk assessment, is expected to change drastically during pregnancy due to cervical remodeling. Here we demonstrate the potential of SWEI-based descriptors of dispersion as potential biomarkers for cervical remodeling during pregnancy. First, we performed a simulation-based pre-selection of two SWEI-based dispersion descriptors: the ratio R of group velocities computed with particle-velocity and particle-displacement, and the slope S of the phase velocity vs. frequency. The pre-selection consisted of comparing the contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) of dispersion descriptors in materials with different degrees of dispersion with respect to a low-dispersive medium. Shear waves induced in these media by SWEI were simulated with a finite-element model of Zener viscoelastic solids. The pre-selection also considered two denoising strategies to improve CNR: a low-pass filter with automatic frequency cutoff determination, and singular value decomposition of shear wave displacements. After pre-selection, the descriptor-denoising combination that produced the largest CNR was applied to SWEI cervix data from 18 pregnant Rhesus macaques acquired at weeks 10 (mid-pregnancy stage) and 23 (late pregnancy stage) of the 24.5-week full pregnancy. A maximum likelihood linear mixed-effects model (LME) was used to evaluate the dependence of the dispersion descriptor on pregnancy stage, maternal age, parity and other experimental factors. The pre-selection study showed that descriptor S combined with singular value decomposition produced a CNR 11.6 times larger than the other descriptor and denoising strategy combinations. In the Non-Human Primates (NHP) study, the LME model showed that descriptor S significantly decreased from mid to late pregnancy (-0.37 ± 0.07 m/s-kHz per week, p <0.00001) with respect to the base value of 15.5 ± 1.9 m/s-kHz. This change was more significant than changes in other SWEI features such as the group velocity previously reported. Also, S varied significantly between the anterior and posterior portions of the cervix (p =0.02) and with maternal age (p =0.008). Given the potential of shear wave dispersion to track cervical remodeling, we will extend its application to ongoing longitudinal human studies.