Sample Composition Alters Associations Between Age and Brain Structure

Nat Commun. 2017 Oct 12;8(1):874. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-00908-7.

Abstract

Despite calls to incorporate population science into neuroimaging research, most studies recruit small, non-representative samples. Here, we examine whether sample composition influences age-related variation in global measurements of gray matter volume, thickness, and surface area. We apply sample weights to structural brain imaging data from a community-based sample of children aged 3-18 (N = 1162) to create a "weighted sample" that approximates the distribution of socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and sex in the U.S. Census. We compare associations between age and brain structure in this weighted sample to estimates from the original sample with no sample weights applied (i.e., unweighted). Compared to the unweighted sample, we observe earlier maturation of cortical and sub-cortical structures, and patterns of brain maturation that better reflect known developmental trajectories in the weighted sample. Our empirical demonstration of bias introduced by non-representative sampling in this neuroimaging cohort suggests that sample composition may influence understanding of fundamental neural processes.The influence of sample composition on human neuroimaging results is unknown. Here, the authors weight a large, community-based sample to better reflect the US population and describe how applying these sample weights changes conclusions about age-related variation in brain structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / anatomy & histology*
  • Gray Matter / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging
  • Organ Size / drug effects*
  • Research Design
  • Selection Bias
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States