Sharing individualised template MRI data for MEG source reconstruction: A solution for open data while keeping subject confidentiality

Neuroimage. 2022 Jul 1;254:119165. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2022.119165. Epub 2022 Apr 1.


The increasing requirements for adoption of FAIR data management and sharing original research data from neuroimaging studies can be at odds with protecting the anonymity of the research participants due to the person-identifiable anatomical features in the data. We propose a solution to this dilemma for anatomical MRIs used in MEG source analysis. In MEG analysis, the channel-level data is reconstructed to the source-level using models derived from anatomical MRIs. Sharing data, therefore, requires sharing the anatomical MRI to replicate the analysis. The suggested solution is to replace the individual anatomical MRIs with individualised warped templates that can be used to carry out the MEG source analysis and that provide sufficient geometrical similarity to the original participants' MRIs. First, we demonstrate how the individualised template warping can be implemented with one of the leading open-source neuroimaging analysis toolboxes. Second, we compare results from four different MEG source reconstruction methods performed with an individualised warped template to those using the participant's original MRI. While the source reconstruction results are not numerically identical, there is a high similarity between the results for single dipole fits, dynamic imaging of coherent sources beamforming, and atlas-based virtual channel beamforming. There is a moderate similarity between minimum-norm estimates, as anticipated due to this method being anatomically constrained and dependent on the exact morphological features of the cortical sheet. We also compared the morphological features of the warped template to those of the original MRI. These showed a high similarity in grey matter volume and surface area, but a low similarity in the average cortical thickness and the mean folding index within cortical parcels. Taken together, this demonstrates that the results obtained by MEG source reconstruction can be preserved with the warped templates, whereas the anatomical and morphological fingerprint is sufficiently altered to protect the anonymity of research participants. In cases where participants consent to sharing anatomical MRI data, it remains preferable to share the original defaced data with an appropriate data use agreement. In cases where participants did not consent to share their MRIs, the individualised warped MRI template offers a good compromise in sharing data for reuse while retaining anonymity for research participants.

Keywords: Anonymisation; Data sharing; MEG; MRI; Privacy; Source reconstruction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Confidentiality
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Gray Matter
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Magnetoencephalography* / methods
  • Neuroimaging