Age-dependent cut-offs for pathological deep gray matter and thalamic volume loss using Jacobian integration

Neuroimage Clin. 2020;28:102478. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2020.102478. Epub 2020 Oct 27.


Introduction: Several recent studies indicate that deep gray matter or thalamic volume loss (VL) might be promising surrogate markers of disease activity in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. To allow applying these markers to individual MS patients in clinical routine, age-dependent cut-offs distinguishing physiological from pathological VL and an estimation of the measurement error, which provides the confidence of the result, are to be defined.

Methods: Longitudinal MRI scans of the following cohorts were analyzed in this study: 189 healthy controls (HC) (mean age 54 years, 22% female), 98 MS patients from Zurich university hospital (mean age 34 years, 62% female), 33 MS patients from Dresden university hospital (mean age 38 years, 60% female), and publicly available reliability data sets consisting of 162 short-term MRI scan-rescan pairs with scan intervals of days or few weeks. Percentage annualized whole brain volume loss (BVL), gray matter (GM) volume loss (GMVL), deep gray matter volume loss (deep GMVL), and thalamic volume loss (ThalaVL) were computed deploying the Jacobian integration (JI) method. BVL was additionally computed using Siena, an established method used in many Phase III drug trials. A linear mixed effect model was used to estimate the measurement error as the standard deviation (SD) of model residuals of all 162 scan-rescan pairs For estimation of age-dependent cut-offs, a quadratic regression function between age and the corresponding annualized VL values of the HC was computed. The 5th percentile was defined as the threshold for pathological VL per year since 95% of HC subjects exhibit a less pronounced VL for a given age. For the MS patients BVL, GMVL, deep GMVL, and ThalaVL were mutually compared and a paired t-test was used to test whether there are systematic differences in VL between these brain regions.

Results: Siena and JI showed a high agreement for BVL measures, with a median absolute difference of 0.1% and a correlation coefficient of r = 0.78. Siena and GMVL showed a similar standard deviation (SD) of the scan-rescan error of 0.28% and 0.29%, respectively. For deep GMVL, ThalaVL the SD of the scan-rescan error was slightly higher (0.43% and 0.5%, respectively). Among the HC the thalamus showed the highest mean VL (-0.16%, -0.39%, and -0.59% at ages 35, 55, and 75, respectively). Corresponding cut-offs for a pathological VL/year were -0.68%, -0.91%, and -1.11%. The MS cohorts did not differ in BVL and GMVL. However, both MS cohorts showed a significantly (p = 0.05) stronger deep GMVL than BVL per year.

Conclusion: It might be methodologically feasible to assess deep GMVL using JI in individual MS patients. However, age and the measurement error need to be taken into account. Furthermore, deep GMVL may be used as a complementary marker to BVL since MS patients exhibit a significantly stronger deep GMVL than BVL.

Keywords: Aging, multiple sclerosis; Brain atrophy; Deep gray matter volume loss; Gray matter volume loss; Jacobian integration; Siena; Thalamic volume loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology
  • Female
  • Gray Matter* / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / diagnostic imaging
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / pathology
  • Reproducibility of Results