Introduction: An automated procedure for the detection, quantification, localization and statistical mapping of white matter hyperintensities (WMH) on T2-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) images is presented and validated based on the results of a between-centre reproducibility study.
Methods: The first step is the identification of white matter (WM) tissue using a multispectral (T1, T2, PD) segmentation. In a second step, WMH are identified within the WM tissue by segmenting T2 images, isolating two different classes of WMH voxels - low- and high-contrast WMH voxels, respectively. The reliability of the whole procedure was assessed by applying it to the analysis of two large MR imaging databases (n = 650 and n= 710, respectively) of healthy elderly subjects matched for demographic characteristics.
Results: Average overall WMH load and spatial distribution were found to be similar in the two samples, (1.81 and 1.79% of the WM volume, respectively). White matter hyperintensity load was found to be significantly associated with both age and high blood pressure, with similar effects in both samples. With specific reference to the 650 subject cohort, we also found that WMH load provided by this automated procedure was significantly associated with visual grading of the severity of WMH, as assessed by a trained neurologist.
Conclusion: The results show that this method is sensitive, well correlated with semi-quantitative visual rating and highly reproducible.