Preterm birth is often associated with impaired brain development. The state and expected progression of preterm brain development can be evaluated using quantitative assessment of MR images. Such measurements require accurate segmentation of different tissue types in those images. This paper presents an algorithm for the automatic segmentation of unmyelinated white matter (WM), cortical grey matter (GM), and cerebrospinal fluid in the extracerebral space (CSF). The algorithm uses supervised voxel classification in three subsequent stages. In the first stage, voxels that can easily be assigned to one of the three tissue types are labelled. In the second stage, dedicated analysis of the remaining voxels is performed. The first and the second stages both use two-class classification for each tissue type separately. Possible inconsistencies that could result from these tissue-specific segmentation stages are resolved in the third stage, which performs multi-class classification. A set of T1- and T2-weighted images was analysed, but the optimised system performs automatic segmentation using a T2-weighted image only. We have investigated the performance of the algorithm when using training data randomly selected from completely annotated images as well as when using training data from only partially annotated images. The method was evaluated on images of preterm infants acquired at 30 and 40weeks postmenstrual age (PMA). When the method was trained using random selection from the completely annotated images, the average Dice coefficients were 0.95 for WM, 0.81 for GM, and 0.89 for CSF on an independent set of images acquired at 30weeks PMA. When the method was trained using only the partially annotated images, the average Dice coefficients were 0.95 for WM, 0.78 for GM and 0.87 for CSF for the images acquired at 30weeks PMA, and 0.92 for WM, 0.80 for GM and 0.85 for CSF for the images acquired at 40weeks PMA. Even though the segmentations obtained using training data from the partially annotated images resulted in slightly lower Dice coefficients, the performance in all experiments was close to that of a second human expert (0.93 for WM, 0.79 for GM and 0.86 for CSF for the images acquired at 30weeks, and 0.94 for WM, 0.76 for GM and 0.87 for CSF for the images acquired at 40weeks). These results show that the presented method is robust to age and acquisition protocol and that it performs accurate segmentation of WM, GM, and CSF when the training data is extracted from complete annotations as well as when the training data is extracted from partial annotations only. This extends the applicability of the method by reducing the time and effort necessary to create training data in a population with different characteristics.
Keywords: Automatic brain segmentation; MRI; Preterm neonatal brain; Supervised voxel classification.
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