Volume versus surface-based cortical thickness measurements: A comparative study with healthy controls and multiple sclerosis patients

PLoS One. 2017 Jul 6;12(7):e0179590. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0179590. eCollection 2017.


The cerebral cortex is a highly folded outer layer of grey matter tissue that plays a key role in cognitive functions. In part, alterations of the cortex during development and disease can be captured by measuring the cortical thickness across the whole brain. Available software tools differ with regard to labor intensity and computational demands. In this study, we compared the computational anatomy toolbox (CAT), a recently proposed volume-based tool, with the well-established surface-based tool FreeSurfer. We observed that overall thickness measures were highly inter-correlated, although thickness estimates were systematically lower in CAT than in FreeSurfer. Comparison of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients with age-matched healthy control subjects showed highly comparable clusters of MS-related thinning for both methods. Likewise, both methods yielded comparable clusters of age-related cortical thinning, although correlations between age and average cortical thickness were stronger for FreeSurfer. Our data suggest that, for the analysis of cortical thickness, the volume-based CAT tool can be regarded a considerable alternative to the well-established surface-based FreeSurfer tool.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging*
  • Gray Matter / pathology
  • Gray Matter / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / physiopathology
  • Software*

Grant support

This work was funded by the ‘Hertie Foundation’ (Grant P1140092 ‘Myelin mapping in MS’) and supported by the ‘German Competence Network Multiple Sclerosis’ (German Ministry for Research and Education Grant 01GI1307B). Bernhard Hemmer was also supported by SFB TR-128 Initiating/effector versus regulatory mechanisms in Multiple Sclerosis – progress towards tackling the disease. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.