Automatic cerebral cortical surface reconstruction is a useful tool for cortical anatomy quantification, analysis and visualization. Recently, the Human Connectome Project and several studies have shown the advantages of using T1-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) images with sub-millimeter isotropic spatial resolution instead of the standard 1-mm isotropic resolution for improved accuracy of cortical surface positioning and thickness estimation. Nonetheless, sub-millimeter resolution images are noisy by nature and require averaging multiple repetitions to increase the signal-to-noise ratio for precisely delineating the cortical boundary. The prolonged acquisition time and potential motion artifacts pose significant barriers to the wide adoption of cortical surface reconstruction at sub-millimeter resolution for a broad range of neuroscientific and clinical applications. We address this challenge by evaluating the cortical surface reconstruction resulting from denoised single-repetition sub-millimeter T1-weighted images. We systematically characterized the effects of image denoising on empirical data acquired at 0.6 mm isotropic resolution using three classical denoising methods, including denoising convolutional neural network (DnCNN), block-matching and 4-dimensional filtering (BM4D) and adaptive optimized non-local means (AONLM). The denoised single-repetition images were found to be highly similar to 6-repetition averaged images, with a low whole-brain averaged mean absolute difference of ~0.016, high whole-brain averaged peak signal-to-noise ratio of ~33.5 dB and structural similarity index of ~0.92, and minimal gray matter-white matter contrast loss (2% to 9%). The whole-brain mean absolute discrepancies in gray matter-white matter surface placement, gray matter-cerebrospinal fluid surface placement and cortical thickness estimation were lower than 165 μm, 155 μm and 145 μm-sufficiently accurate for most applications. These discrepancies were approximately one third to half of those from 1-mm isotropic resolution data. The denoising performance was equivalent to averaging ~2.5 repetitions of the data in terms of image similarity, and 1.6-2.2 repetitions in terms of the cortical surface placement accuracy. The scan-rescan variability of the cortical surface positioning and thickness estimation was lower than 170 μm. Our unique dataset and systematic characterization support the use of denoising methods for improved cortical surface reconstruction at sub-millimeter resolution.
Keywords: BM4D; Convolutional neural network; Deep learning; High-resolution; Magnetic resonance imaging; Non-local means; T(1)-weighted image.
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