Longitudinally and inter-site consistent multi-atlas based parcellation of brain anatomy using harmonized atlases
As longitudinal and multi-site studies become increasingly frequent in neuroimaging, maintaining longitudinal and inter-scanner consistency of brain parcellation has become a major challenge due to variation in scanner models and/or image acquisition protocols across scanners and sites. We present a new automated segmentation method specifically designed to achieve a consistent parcellation of anatomical brain structures in such heterogeneous datasets. Our method combines a site-specific atlas creation strategy with a state-of-the-art multi-atlas anatomical label fusion framework. Site-specific atlases are computed such that they preserve image intensity characteristics of each site's scanner and acquisition protocol, while atlas pairs share anatomical labels in a way consistent with inter-scanner acquisition variations. This harmonization of atlases improves inter-study and longitudinal consistency of segmentations in the subsequent consensus labeling step. We tested this approach on a large sample of older adults from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) who had longitudinal scans acquired using two scanners that vary with respect to vendor and image acquisition protocol. We compared the proposed method to standard multi-atlas segmentation for both cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. The harmonization significantly reduced scanner-related differences in the age trends of ROI volumes, improved longitudinal consistency of segmentations, and resulted in higher across-scanner intra-class correlations, particularly in the white matter.