New tissue priors for improved classification of subcortical brain structures on MRI

Despite the constant improvement of algorithms for automated brain tissue classification, the accurate delineation of subcortical structures using magnetic resonance images (MRI) data remains challenging. The main difficulties arise from the low gray-white matter contrast of iron rich areas in T1-weighted (T1w) MRI data and from the lack of adequate priors for basal ganglia and thalamus. The most recent attempts to obtain such priors were based on cohorts with limited size that included subjects in a narrow age range, failing to account for age-related gray-white matter contrast changes. Aiming to improve the anatomical plausibility of automated brain tissue classification from T1w data, we have created new tissue probability maps for subcortical gray matter regions. Supported by atlas-derived spatial information, raters manually labeled subcortical structures in a cohort of healthy subjects using magnetization transfer saturation and R2* MRI maps, which feature optimal gray-white matter contrast in these areas. After assessment of inter-rater variability, the new tissue priors were tested on T1w data within the framework of voxel-based morphometry. The automated detection of gray matter in subcortical areas with our new probability maps was more anatomically plausible compared to the one derived with currently available priors. We provide evidence that the improved delineation compensates age-related bias in the segmentation of iron rich subcortical regions. The new tissue priors, allowing robust detection of basal ganglia and thalamus, have the potential to enhance the sensitivity of voxel-based morphometry in both healthy and diseased brains.


Subtle in-scanner motion biases automated measurement of brain anatomy from in vivo MRI

While the potential for small amounts of motion in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to bias the results of functional neuroimaging studies is well appreciated, the impact of in-scanner motion on morphological analysis of structural MRI is relatively under-studied. Even among “good quality” structural scans, there may be systematic effects of motion on measures of brain morphometry. In the present study, the subjects' tendency to move during fMRI scans, acquired in the same scanning sessions as their structural scans, yielded a reliable, continuous estimate of in-scanner motion. Using this approach within a sample of 127 children, adolescents, and young adults, significant relationships were found between this measure and estimates of cortical gray matter volume and mean curvature, as well as trend-level relationships with cortical thickness. Specifically, cortical volume and thickness decreased with greater motion, and mean curvature increased. These effects of subtle motion were anatomically heterogeneous, were present across different automated imaging pipelines, showed convergent validity with effects of frank motion assessed in a separate sample of 274 scans, and could be demonstrated in both pediatric and adult populations. Thus, using different motion assays in two large non-overlapping sets of structural MRI scans, convergent evidence showed that in-scanner motion—even at levels which do not manifest in visible motion artifact—can lead to systematic and regionally specific biases in anatomical estimation. These findings have special relevance to structural neuroimaging in developmental and clinical datasets, and inform ongoing efforts to optimize neuroanatomical analysis of existing and future structural MRI datasets in non-sedated humans.

Comparing FreeSurfer-generated data with and without manual intervention

For cortical thickness measures however, seven edited ROI measures, primarily in frontal and temporal regions, differed significantly from their unedited counterparts, and three additional ROI measures approached significance. Mean effect sizes for edited ROIs did not differ from most unedited ROIs for either 1.5 or 3 tesla data. Taken together, these results suggest that although the application of control points may increase the validity of intensity normalization and, ultimately, segmentation, it may not affect the final, extracted metrics that FS generates.

Time-of-day effects in brain volume (brain volumes are larger in the morning) (!)

There was a statistically significant effect of time-of-day on the BPF change in MS clinical trial datasets (− 0.180 per day, that is, 0.180% of intracranial volume, p = 0.019) as well as the ADNI dataset (− 0.438 per day, that is, 0.438% of intracranial volume, p < 0.0001), showing that the brain volume is greater in the morning. Linearly correcting the BPF values with the time-of-day reduced the required sample size to detect a 25% treatment effect (80% power and 0.05 significance level) on change in brain volume from 2 time-points over a period of 1 year by 2.6%.