Dilated Saliency U-Net for White Matter Hyperintensities Segmentation using Irregularity Age Map
White matter hyperintensities (WMH) appear as regions of abnormally high signal intensity on T2-weighted magnetic resonance image (MRI) sequences. In particular, WMH have been noteworthy in age-related neuroscience for being a crucial biomarker for all types of dementia and brain aging processes. The automatic WMH segmentation is challenging because of their variable intensity range, size and shape. U-Net tackles this problem through the dense prediction and has shown competitive performances not only on WMH segmentation/detection but also on varied image segmentation tasks. However, its network architecture is highly complex. In this study, we propose the use of Saliency U-Net and irregularity age map (IAM) to decrease the U-Net architectural complexity without performance loss. We trained Saliency U-Net using both: a T2-FLAIR MRI sequence and its correspondent IAM. Since IAM guides locating image intensity irregularities, in which WMH are possibly included, in the MRI slice, Saliency U-Net performs better than the original U-Net trained only using T2-FLAIR. The best performance was achieved with fewer parameters and shorter training time. Moreover, the application of dilated convolution enhanced Saliency U-Net by recognising the shape of large WMH more accurately through multi-scale context learning. This network named Dilated Saliency U-Net improved Dice coefficient score to 0.5588 which was the best score among our experimental models, and recorded a relatively good sensitivity of 0.4747 with the shortest training time and the least number of parameters. In conclusion, based on our experimental results, incorporating IAM through Dilated Saliency U-Net resulted an appropriate approach for WMH segmentation.
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