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.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





83 - 98


Algorithms, Area Under Curve, Brain Mapping, Humans, Image Enhancement, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, ROC Curve