Modern machine learning algorithms are increasingly being used in neuroimaging studies, such as the prediction of Alzheimer's disease (AD) from structural MRI. However, finding a good representation for multivariate brain MRI features in which their essential structure is revealed and easily extractable has been difficult. We report a successful application of a machine learning framework that significantly improved the use of brain MRI for predictions. Specifically, we used the unsupervised learning algorithm of local linear embedding (LLE) to transform multivariate MRI data of regional brain volume and cortical thickness to a locally linear space with fewer dimensions, while also utilizing the global nonlinear data structure. The embedded brain features were then used to train a classifier for predicting future conversion to AD based on a baseline MRI. We tested the approach on 413 individuals from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) who had baseline MRI scans and complete clinical follow-ups over 3 years with the following diagnoses: cognitive normal (CN; n=137), stable mild cognitive impairment (s-MCI; n=93), MCI converters to AD (c-MCI, n=97), and AD (n=86). We found that classifications using embedded MRI features generally outperformed (p<0.05) classifications using the original features directly. Moreover, the improvement from LLE was not limited to a particular classifier but worked equally well for regularized logistic regressions, support vector machines, and linear discriminant analysis. Most strikingly, using LLE significantly improved (p=0.007) predictions of MCI subjects who converted to AD and those who remained stable (accuracy/sensitivity/specificity: =0.68/0.80/0.56). In contrast, predictions using the original features performed not better than by chance (accuracy/sensitivity/specificity: =0.56/0.65/0.46). In conclusion, LLE is a very effective tool for classification studies of AD using multivariate MRI data. The improvement in predicting conversion to AD in MCI could have important implications for health management and for powering therapeutic trials by targeting non-demented subjects who later convert to AD.
Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Classification of AD; Locally linear embedding; MRI; Statistical learning.
Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.