Multisite reproducibility and test-retest reliability of the T1w/T2w-ratio: A comparison of processing methods
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionNerland, S., Jørgensen, K. N., Nordhøy, W., Maximov, I. I., Bugge, R. A. B., Westlye, L. T., . . . Agartz, I. (2021). Multisite reproducibility and test-retest reliability of the T1w/T2w-ratio: A comparison of processing methods. NeuroImage, 245, 118709. 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.118709
Background The ratio of T1-weighted (T1w) and T2-weighted (T2w) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images is often used as a proxy measure of cortical myelin. However, the T1w/T2w-ratio is based on signal intensities that are inherently non-quantitative and known to be affected by extrinsic factors. To account for this a variety of processing methods have been proposed, but a systematic evaluation of their efficacy is lacking. Given the dependence of the T1w/T2w-ratio on scanner hardware and T1w and T2w protocols, it is important to ensure that processing pipelines perform well also across different sites. Methods We assessed a variety of processing methods for computing cortical T1w/T2w-ratio maps, including correction methods for nonlinear field inhomogeneities, local outliers, and partial volume effects as well as intensity normalisation. These were implemented in 33 processing pipelines which were applied to four test-retest datasets, with a total of 170 pairs of T1w and T2w images acquired on four different MRI scanners. We assessed processing pipelines across datasets in terms of their reproducibility of expected regional distributions of cortical myelin, lateral intensity biases, and test-retest reliability regionally and across the cortex. Regional distributions were compared both qualitatively with histology and quantitatively with two reference datasets, YA-BC and YA-B1+, from the Human Connectome Project. Results Reproducibility of raw T1w/T2w-ratio distributions was overall high with the exception of one dataset. For this dataset, Spearman rank correlations increased from 0.27 to 0.70 after N3 bias correction relative to the YA-BC reference and from -0.04 to 0.66 after N4ITK bias correction relative to the YA-B1+ reference. Partial volume and outlier corrections had only marginal effects on the reproducibility of T1w/T2w-ratio maps and test-retest reliability. Before intensity normalisation, we found large coefficients of variation (CVs) and low intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs), with total whole-cortex CV of 10.13% and whole-cortex ICC of 0.58 for the raw T1w/T2w-ratio. Intensity normalisation with WhiteStripe, RAVEL, and Z-Score improved total whole-cortex CVs to 5.91%, 5.68%, and 5.19% respectively, whereas Z-Score and Least Squares improved whole-cortex ICCs to 0.96 and 0.97 respectively. Conclusions In the presence of large intensity nonuniformities, bias field correction is necessary to achieve acceptable correspondence with known distributions of cortical myelin, but it can be detrimental in datasets with less intensity inhomogeneity. Intensity normalisation can improve test-retest reliability and inter-subject comparability. However, both bias field correction and intensity normalisation methods vary greatly in their efficacy and may affect the interpretation of results. The choice of T1w/T2w-ratio processing method must therefore be informed by both scanner and acquisition protocol as well as the given study objective. Our results highlight limitations of the T1w/T2w-ratio, but also suggest concrete ways to enhance its usefulness in future studies.