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Neuroimage. 2009 Oct 1;47(4):1545-57. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.05.084. Epub 2009 Jun 6.

Increased sensitivity to effects of normal aging and Alzheimer's disease on cortical thickness by adjustment for local variability in gray/white contrast: a multi-sample MRI study.

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Center for the Study of Human Cognition, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.


MRI-based estimates of cerebral morphometric properties, e.g. cortical thickness, are pivotal to studies of normal and pathological brain changes. These measures are based on automated or manual segmentation procedures, which utilize the tissue contrast between gray and white matter on T(1)-weighted MR images. Tissue contrast is unlikely to remain a constant property across groups of different age and health. An important question is therefore how the sensitivity of cortical thickness estimates is influenced by variability in WM/GM contrast. The effect of adjusting for variability in WM/GM contrast on age sensitivity of cortical thickness was tested in 1189 healthy subjects from six different samples, enabling evaluation of consistency of effects within and between sites and scanners. Further, the influence of Alzheimer's disease (AD) diagnosis on cortical thickness with and without correction for contrast was tested in an additional sample of 96 patients. In healthy controls, regional increases in the sensitivity of the cortical thickness measure to age were found after correcting for contrast. Across samples, the strongest effects were observed in frontal, lateral temporal and parietal areas. Controlling for contrast variability also increased the cortical thickness estimates' sensitivity to AD, thus replicating the finding in an independent clinical sample. The results showed increased sensitivity of cortical estimates to AD in areas earlier reported to be compromised in AD, including medial temporal, inferior and superior parietal regions. In sum, the findings indicate that adjusting for contrast can increase the sensitivity of MR morphometry to variables of interest.

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