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White matter hyperintensities (WMH), also known as white matter lesions, are localised white matter areas that appear hyperintense on MRI scans. WMH commonly occur in the ageing population, and are often associated with several factors such as cognitive disorders, cardiovascular risk factors, cerebrovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Despite the fact that some links between lesion location and parametric factors such as age have already been established, the relationship between voxel-wise spatial distribution of lesions and these factors is not yet well understood. Hence, it would be of clinical importance to model the distribution of lesions at the population-level and quantitatively analyse the effect of various factors on the lesion distribution model. In this work we compare various methods, including our proposed method, to generate voxel-wise distributions of WMH within a population with respect to various factors. Our proposed Bayesian spline method models the spatio-temporal distribution of WMH with respect to a parametric factor of interest, in this case age, within a population. Our probabilistic model takes as input the lesion segmentation binary maps of subjects belonging to various age groups and provides a population-level parametric lesion probability map as output. We used a spline representation to ensure a degree of smoothness in space and the dimension associated with the parameter, and formulated our model using a Bayesian framework. We tested our algorithm output on simulated data and compared our results with those obtained using various existing methods with different levels of algorithmic and computational complexity. We then compared the better performing methods on a real dataset, consisting of 1000 subjects of the UK Biobank, divided in two groups based on hypertension diagnosis. Finally, we applied our method on a clinical dataset of patients with vascular disease. On simulated dataset, the results from our algorithm showed a mean square error (MSE) value of 7.27×10-5, which was lower than the MSE value reported in the literature, with the advantage of being robust and computationally efficient. In the UK Biobank data, we found that the lesion probabilities are higher for the hypertension group compared to the non-hypertension group and further verified this finding using a statistical t-test. Finally, when applying our method on patients with vascular disease, we observed that the overall probability of lesions is significantly higher in later age groups, which is in line with the current literature.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





434 - 445


Oxford Centre for Functional MRI of Brain (FMRIB), Wellcome Centre for Integrative NeuroImaging, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford, UK; Oxford-Nottingham Centre for Doctoral Training in Biomedical Imaging, University of Oxford, UK; Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development, Somerville College, University of Oxford, UK. Electronic address: