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Robust T1 MRI cortical surface pipeline for neonatal brain and systematic evaluation using multi-site MRI datasets

By Mengting Liu, Claude Lepage, Sharon Y. Kim, Seun Jeon, Sun Hyung Kim, Julia Pia Simon, Nina Tanaka, Shiyu Yuan, Tasfiya Islam, Bailin Peng, Knarik Yun, Wesley Surento, Justin Kim, Neda Jahanshad, Martin A Styner, Arthur W. Toga, Anthony James Barkovich, Duan Xu, Alan C Evans, Hosung Kim

Posted 15 Jan 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.13.426611

The human brain grows the most dramatically during the perinatal and early postnatal periods, during which preterm birth or perinatal injury that may alter brain structure and lead to developmental anomalies. Thus, characterizing cortical thickness of developing brains remains an important goal. However, this task is often complicated by inaccurate cortical surface extraction due to small-size brains. Here, we propose a novel complex framework for the reconstruction of neonatal WM and pial surfaces, accounting for large partial volumes due to small-size brains. The proposed approach relies only on T1-weighted images unlike previous T2-weighted image-based approaches while only T1-weighted images are sometimes available under the different clinical/research setting. Deep neural networks are first introduced to the neonatal MRI pipeline to address the mis-segmentation of brain tissues. Furthermore, this pipeline enhances cortical boundary delineation using combined models of the CSF/GM boundary detection with edge gradient information and a new skeletonization of sulcal folding where no CSF voxels are seen due to the limited resolution. We also proposed a systematic evaluation using three independent datasets comprising 736 preterm and 97 term neonates. Qualitative assessment for reconstructed cortical surfaces shows that 86.9% are rated as accurate across the three site datasets. In addition, our landmark-based evaluation shows that the mean displacement of the cortical surfaces from the true boundaries was less than a voxel size (0.532 mm on average). Evaluating the proposed pipeline (namely NEOCIVET 2.0) shows the robustness and reproducibility across different sites and different age-groups. The mean cortical thickness measured positively correlated with postmenstrual age (PMA) at scan (p<0.0001); Cingulate cortical areas grew the most rapidly whereas the inferior temporal cortex grew the least rapidly. The range of the cortical thickness measured was biologically congruent (1.3mm at 28 weeks of PMA to 1.8mm at term equivalent). Cortical thickness measured on T1 MRI using NEOCIVET 2.0 was compared with that on T2 using the established dHCP pipeline. It was difficult to conclude that either T1 or T2 imaging is more ideal to construct cortical surfaces. NEOCIVET 2.0 has been open to the public through CBRAIN (https://mcin-cnim.ca/technology/cbrain/), a web-based platform for processing brain imaging data.

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