Whole Brain and Cranial Size Adjustments in Volumetric Brain Analyses of Sex- and Age-Related Trends

Front Neurosci. 2020 Apr 3;14:278. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.00278. eCollection 2020.


Our goal was to determine the influence of sex, age and the head/brain size on the compartmental brain volumes in the radiologically verified healthy population (96 subjects; 54 women and 42 men) from the Upper Silesia region in Poland. The MRI examinations were done using 3T Philips Achieva with the same T1-weighted and T2-weighted protocols. The image segmentation procedures were performed with SPM (Statistical Parameter Mapping) and FSL-FIRST software. The volumes of 14 subcortical structures for the left and right hemispheres and 4 overall volumes were calculated. The General Linear Models (GLM) analysis was used with and without the Total Brain Volume (TBV) and Intracranial Volume (ICV) parameters as the covariates to study the regional vs. global brain atrophy. After the ICV/TBV adjustments, the majority of sex differences in the specific volumes of interest (VOIs) revealed to be linked to the difference in the head/brain size parameters. The analysis also confirmed the significant effect of the aging process on the brain loss. After the TBV adjustment, the age- and sex-related volumetric trends for the gray and white matter volumes were observed: the negative age dependence of the gray matter volume is more pronounced in the males, while in case of the white matter the positive age-related trend in the female group is weaker. The local losses of the left caudate nucleus and the right thalamus are more advanced than the global brain atrophy. Different head-size correction strategies are not interchangeable and may yield various volumetric results, but when used together, facilitate studies on the regional dependencies inherent to a healthy, but aging, brain.

Keywords: MRI; aging; sex studies; volumetry analysis; voxel based segmentation.