• Language networks in anophthalmia: Maintained hierarchy of processing in 'visual' cortex

    25 December 2017

    Imaging studies in blind subjects have consistently shown that sensory and cognitive tasks evoke activity in the occipital cortex, which is normally visual. The precise areas involved and degree of activation are dependent upon the cause and age of onset of blindness. Here, we investigated the cortical language network at rest and during an auditory covert naming task in five bilaterally anophthalmic subjects, who have never received visual input. When listening to auditory definitions and covertly retrieving words, these subjects activated lateral occipital cortex bilaterally in addition to the language areas activated in sighted controls. This activity was significantly greater than that present in a control condition of listening to reversed speech. The lateral occipital cortex was also recruited into a left-lateralized resting-state network that usually comprises anterior and posterior language areas. Levels of activation to the auditory naming and reversed speech conditions did not differ in the calcarine (striate) cortex. This primary 'visual' cortex was not recruited to the left-lateralized resting-state network and showed high interhemispheric correlation of activity at rest, as is typically seen in unimodal cortical areas. In contrast, the interhemispheric correlation of resting activity in extrastriate areas was reduced in anophthalmia to the level of cortical areas that are heteromodal, such as the inferior frontal gyrus. Previous imaging studies in the congenitally blind show that primary visual cortex is activated in higher-order tasks, such as language and memory to a greater extent than during more basic sensory processing, resulting in a reversal of the normal hierarchy of functional organization across 'visual' areas. Our data do not support such a pattern of organization in anophthalmia. Instead, the patterns of activity during task and the functional connectivity at rest are consistent with the known hierarchy of processing in these areas normally seen for vision. The differences in cortical organization between bilateral anophthalmia and other forms of congenital blindness are considered to be due to the total absence of stimulation in 'visual' cortex by light or retinal activity in the former condition, and suggests development of subcortical auditory input to the geniculo-striate pathway. © 2012 The Author.

  • Differential effects of the APOE genotype on brain function across the lifespan.

    9 January 2018

    Increasing age and carrying an APOE ε4 allele are well established risk factors for Alzheimer's disease (AD). The earlier age of onset of AD observed in ε4-carriers may reflect an accelerated aging process. We recently reported that APOE genotype modulates brain function decades before the appearance of any cognitive or clinical symptoms. Here we test the hypothesis that APOE influences brain aging by comparing healthy ε4-carriers and non-carriers, using the same imaging protocol in distinct groups of younger and older healthy volunteers. A cross-sectional factorial design was used to examine the effects of age and APOE genotype, and their interaction, on fMRI activation during an encoding memory task. The younger (N=36; age range 20-35; 18 ε4-carriers) and older (35 middle-age/elderly; age range 50-78 years; 15 ε4-carriers) healthy volunteers taking part in the study were cognitively normal. We found a significant interaction between age and ε4-status in the hippocampi, frontal pole, subcortical nuclei, middle temporal gyri and cerebellum, such that aging was associated with decreased activity in e4-carriers and increased activity in non-carriers. Reduced cerebral blood flow was found in the older ε4-carriers relative to older non-carriers despite preserved grey matter volume. Overactivity of brain function in young ε4-carriers is disproportionately reduced with advancing age even before the onset of measurable memory impairment. The APOE genotype determines age-related changes in brain function that may reflect the increased vulnerability of ε4-carriers to late-life pathology or cognitive decline.

  • Combining shape and connectivity analysis: an MRI study of thalamic degeneration in Alzheimer's disease.

    9 January 2018

    Alzheimer's disease (AD) is associated with neuronal loss not only in the hippocampus and amygdala but also in the thalamus. Anterodorsal, centromedial, and pulvinar nuclei are the main sites of degeneration in AD. Here we combined shape analysis and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) tractography to study degeneration in AD in the thalamus and its connections. Structural and diffusion tensor MRI scans were obtained from 16 AD patients and 22 demographically similar healthy volunteers. The thalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala were automatically segmented using our locally developed algorithm, and group comparisons were carried out for each surface vertex. We also employed probabilistic diffusion tractography to obtain connectivity measures between individual thalamic voxels and hippocampus/amygdala voxels and to segment the internal medullary lamina (IML). Shape analysis showed significant bilateral regional atrophy in the dorsal-medial part of the thalamus in AD patients compared to controls. Probabilistic tractography demonstrated that these regions are mainly connected with the hippocampus, temporal, and prefrontal cortex. Intrathalamic FA comparisons showed reductions in the anterodorsal region of thalamus. Intrathalamic tractography from this region revealed that the IML was significantly smaller in AD patients than in controls. We suggest that these changes can be attributed to the degeneration of the anterodorsal and intralaminar nuclei, respectively. In addition, based on previous neuropathological reports, ventral and dorsal-medial shape change in the thalamus in AD patients is likely to be driven by IML atrophy. This combined shape and connectivity analysis provides MRI evidence of regional thalamic degeneration in AD.

  • Crossing fibres in tract-based spatial statistics.

    22 December 2017

    Voxelwise analysis of white matter properties typically relies on scalar measurements derived, for example, from a tensor model fit to diffusion MRI data. These are spatially matched across subjects prior to statistical modelling. In this paper, we show why and how this can be improved through the use of directionally dependent measurements. In the case where different orientations relate to different fibre populations (e.g., in the presence of crossing fibres), distinguishing and matching those populations of fibres across subjects are important prior to any statistical modelling. It allows one to compare measurements that are related to the same fibres across subjects. We show how this framework applies to the parameters of a crossing fibre model and discuss its implications for voxelwise analysis of the white matter.

  • Longitudinal changes in grey and white matter during adolescence.

    9 January 2018

    Brain development continues actively during adolescence. Previous MRI studies have shown complex patterns of apparent loss of grey matter (GM) volume and increases in white matter (WM) volume and fractional anisotropy (FA), an index of WM microstructure. In this longitudinal study (mean follow-up=2.5+/-0.5 years) of 24 adolescents, we used a voxel-based morphometry (VBM)-style analysis with conventional T1-weighted images to test for age-related changes in GM and WM volumes. We also performed tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) analysis of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data to test for age-related WM changes across the whole brain. Probabilistic tractography was used to carry out quantitative comparisons across subjects in measures of WM microstructure in two fiber tracts important for supporting speech and motor functions (arcuate fasciculus [AF] and corticospinal tract [CST]). The whole-brain analyses identified age-related increases in WM volume and FA bilaterally in many fiber tracts, including AF and many parts of the CST. FA changes were mainly driven by increases in parallel diffusivity, probably reflecting increases in the diameter of the axons forming the fiber tracts. FA values of both left and right AF (but not of the CST) were significantly higher at the end of the follow-up than at baseline. Over the same period, widespread reductions in the cortical GM volume were found. These findings provide imaging-based anatomical data suggesting that brain maturation in adolescence is associated with structural changes enhancing long-distance connectivities in different WM tracts, specifically in the AF and CST, at the same time that cortical GM exhibits synaptic "pruning".

  • Threshold-free cluster enhancement: addressing problems of smoothing, threshold dependence and localisation in cluster inference.

    19 January 2018

    Many image enhancement and thresholding techniques make use of spatial neighbourhood information to boost belief in extended areas of signal. The most common such approach in neuroimaging is cluster-based thresholding, which is often more sensitive than voxel-wise thresholding. However, a limitation is the need to define the initial cluster-forming threshold. This threshold is arbitrary, and yet its exact choice can have a large impact on the results, particularly at the lower (e.g., t, z < 4) cluster-forming thresholds frequently used. Furthermore, the amount of spatial pre-smoothing is also arbitrary (given that the expected signal extent is very rarely known in advance of the analysis). In the light of such problems, we propose a new method which attempts to keep the sensitivity benefits of cluster-based thresholding (and indeed the general concept of "clusters" of signal), while avoiding (or at least minimising) these problems. The method takes a raw statistic image and produces an output image in which the voxel-wise values represent the amount of cluster-like local spatial support. The method is thus referred to as "threshold-free cluster enhancement" (TFCE). We present the TFCE approach and discuss in detail ROC-based optimisation and comparisons with cluster-based and voxel-based thresholding. We find that TFCE gives generally better sensitivity than other methods over a wide range of test signal shapes and SNR values. We also show an example on a real imaging dataset, suggesting that TFCE does indeed provide not just improved sensitivity, but richer and more interpretable output than cluster-based thresholding.

  • Changes in white matter microstructure during adolescence.

    27 December 2017

    Postmortem histological studies have demonstrated that myelination in human brain white matter (WM) continues throughout adolescence and well into adulthood. We used in vivo diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging to test for age-related WM changes in 42 adolescents and 20 young adults. Tract-Based Spatial Statistics (TBSS) analysis of the adolescent data identified widespread age-related increases in fractional anisotropy (FA) that were most significant in clusters including the body of the corpus callosum and right superior corona radiata. These changes were driven by changes in perpendicular, rather than parallel, diffusivity. These WM clusters were used as seeds for probabilistic tractography, allowing us to identify the regions as belonging to callosal, corticospinal, and prefrontal tracts. We also performed voxel-based morphometry-style analysis of conventional T1-weighted images to test for age-related changes in grey matter (GM). We identified a cluster including right middle frontal and precentral gyri that showed an age-related decrease in GM density through adolescence and connected with the tracts showing age-related WM FA increases. The GM density decrease was highly significantly correlated with the WM FA increase in the connected cluster. Age-related changes in FA were much less prominent in the young adult group, but we did find a significant age-related increase in FA in the right superior longitudinal fascicle, suggesting that structural development of this pathway continues into adulthood. Our results suggest that significant microstructural changes in WM continue throughout adolescence and are associated with corresponding age-related changes in cortical GM regions.

  • Meaningful design and contrast estimability in FMRI.

    25 December 2017

    Optimising the efficiency of an experimental design is known to be of great importance. However, existing methods for calculating design rank deficiency and contrast estimability (an important aspect of experimental design) relate to computational precision rather than image noise and are therefore not very meaningful. For example, a contrast between two experimental conditions may be mathematically "estimable" while requiring a huge differential BOLD response for statistical significance to be reached. In this paper we formulate standard efficiency equations in terms of required BOLD effect, and use this to generate measures of rank/estimability which are meaningful. This takes into account the strength and smoothness of the timeseries noise and is applicable to complex contrasts; we show how to re-express several regressors and an associated contrast vector as a single equivalent regressor, so that we can calculate the contrast's effective peak-peak height unambiguously. We also present some example results on typical designs, and characterise noise results from a range of typical FMRI acquisitions, in order to allow experimenters to apply efficiency estimation in advance of acquiring data.

  • A Bayesian cost function applied to model-based registration of sub-cortical brain structures

    27 October 2017

    Morphometric analysis and anatomical correspondence across MR images is important in understanding neurological diseases as well as brain function. By registering shape models to unseen data, we will be able to segment the brain into its sub-cortical regions. A Bayesian cost function was derived for this purpose and serves to minimize the residuals to a planar intensity model. The aim of this paper is to explore the properties and justify the use of the cost function. In addition to apure residual term (similar to correlation ratio) there are three additional terms, one of which is a growth term. We show the benefit of incorporating an additional growth term into a purely residual cost function. The growth term minimizes the size of the structure in areas of high residual variance. We further show the cost function's dependence on the local intensity contrast estimate for a given structure. © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2006.