Influence of equipment changes on MRI measures of brain atrophy and brain microstructure in a placebo-controlled trial of ibudilast in progressive multiple sclerosis

Mult Scler J Exp Transl Clin. 2021 May 18;7(2):20552173211010843. doi: 10.1177/20552173211010843. eCollection 2021 Apr-Jun.


Background: Hardware changes can be an unavoidable confound in imaging trials. Understanding the impact of such changes may play an important role in the analysis of imaging data.

Objective: To characterize the effect of equipment changes in a longitudinal, multi-site multiple sclerosis trial.

Methods: Using data from a clinical trial in progressive multiple sclerosis, we explored how major changes in imaging hardware affected data. We analyzed the extent to which these changes affected imaging biomarkers and the estimated treatment effects by including such changes as a time-dependent covariate.

Results: Significant differences whole brain atrophy (brain parenchymal fraction, BPF) and microstructure (transverse diffusivity, TD) between scans with and without changes were found and depended on the type of hardware change. A switch from GE HDxt to Siemens Skyra led to significant shifts in BPF (p < 0.04) and TD (p < 0.0001). However, we could not detect the influence of hardware changes on overall trial outcomes- differences between placebo and treatment arms in change over time of BPF and TD (p > 0.5).

Conclusions: The results suggest that differences among hardware types should be considered when planning and analyzing brain atrophy and diffusivity in a longitudinal clinical trial.

Keywords: Multiple sclerosis; biomarkers; brain parenchymal fraction; clinical trial; diffusion tensor imaging; diffusivity.