Neuroimaging-based age predictions using machine learning have been shown to relate to cognitive performance, health outcomes and progression of neurodegenerative disease. However, even leading age-prediction algorithms contain measurement error, motivating efforts to improve experimental pipelines. T1-weighted MRI is commonly used for age prediction, and the pre-processing of these scans involves normalisation to a common template and resampling to a common voxel size, followed by spatial smoothing. Resampling parameters are often selected arbitrarily. Here, we sought to improve brain-age prediction accuracy by optimising resampling parameters using Bayesian optimisation. Using data on N=2001 healthy individuals (aged 16-90 years) we trained support vector machines to i) distinguish between young (<50 years) and old (>50 years) brains and ii) predict chronological age, with accuracy assessed using cross-validation. We also evaluated model generalisability to the Cam-CAN dataset (N=648, aged 18-88 years). Bayesian optimisation was used to identify optimal voxel size and smoothing kernel size for each task. This procedure adaptively samples the parameter space to evaluate accuracy across a range of possible parameters, using independent sub-samples to iteratively assess different parameter combinations to arrive at optimal values. When distinguishing between young and old brains a classification accuracy of 96.25% was achieved, with voxel size = 11.5mm3 and smoothing kernel = 2.3mm. For predicting chronological age, a mean absolute error (MAE) of 5.08 years was achieved, with voxel size = 3.73mm3 and smoothing kernel = 3.68mm. This was compared to performance using default values of 1.5mm3 and 4mm respectively, which gave a MAE = 5.48 years, a 7.3% improvement. When assessing generalisability, best performance was achieved when applying the entire Bayesian optimisation framework to the new dataset, out-performing the parameters optimised for the initial training dataset. Our study demonstrates the proof-of-principle that neuroimaging models for brain age prediction can be improved by using Bayesian optimisation to select more appropriate pre-processing parameters. Our results suggest that different parameters are selected and performance improves when optimisation is conducted in specific contexts. This motivates use of optimisation techniques at many different points during the experimental process, which may result in improved statistical sensitivity and reduce opportunities for experimenter-led bias.
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