U-net model for brain extraction: Trained on humans for transfer to non-human primates

Neuroimage. 2021 Jul 15;235:118001. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.118001. Epub 2021 Mar 28.


Brain extraction (a.k.a. skull stripping) is a fundamental step in the neuroimaging pipeline as it can affect the accuracy of downstream preprocess such as image registration, tissue classification, etc. Most brain extraction tools have been designed for and applied to human data and are often challenged by non-human primates (NHP) data. Amongst recent attempts to improve performance on NHP data, deep learning models appear to outperform the traditional tools. However, given the minimal sample size of most NHP studies and notable variations in data quality, the deep learning models are very rarely applied to multi-site samples in NHP imaging. To overcome this challenge, we used a transfer-learning framework that leverages a large human imaging dataset to pretrain a convolutional neural network (i.e. U-Net Model), and then transferred this to NHP data using a small NHP training sample. The resulting transfer-learning model converged faster and achieved more accurate performance than a similar U-Net Model trained exclusively on NHP samples. We improved the generalizability of the model by upgrading the transfer-learned model using additional training datasets from multiple research sites in the Primate Data-Exchange (PRIME-DE) consortium. Our final model outperformed brain extraction routines from popular MRI packages (AFNI, FSL, and FreeSurfer) across a heterogeneous sample from multiple sites in the PRIME-DE with less computational cost (20 s~10 min). We also demonstrated the transfer-learning process enables the macaque model to be updated for use with scans from chimpanzees, marmosets, and other mammals (e.g. pig). Our model, code, and the skull-stripped mask repository of 136 macaque monkeys are publicly available for unrestricted use by the neuroimaging community at https://github.com/HumanBrainED/NHP-BrainExtraction.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Datasets as Topic
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Macaca
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Neural Networks, Computer*
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Young Adult