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Front Neuroinform. 2019 Feb 19;13:2. doi: 10.3389/fninf.2019.00002. eCollection 2019.

Diffusion MRI Indices and Their Relation to Cognitive Impairment in Brain Aging: The Updated Multi-protocol Approach in ADNI3.

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Imaging Genetics Center, Mark & Mary Stevens Neuroimaging & Informatics Institute, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Marina del Rey, CA, United States.
Department of Information Technology, Mayo Clinic and Foundation, Rochester, MN, United States.
Department of Radiology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, United States.
Department of Radiology, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, United States.


Brain imaging with diffusion-weighted MRI (dMRI) is sensitive to microstructural white matter (WM) changes associated with brain aging and neurodegeneration. In its third phase, the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI3) is collecting data across multiple sites and scanners using different dMRI acquisition protocols, to better understand disease effects. It is vital to understand when data can be pooled across scanners, and how the choice of dMRI protocol affects the sensitivity of extracted measures to differences in clinical impairment. Here, we analyzed ADNI3 data from 317 participants (mean age: 75.4 ± 7.9 years; 143 men/174 women), who were each scanned at one of 47 sites with one of six dMRI protocols using scanners from three different manufacturers. We computed four standard diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) indices including fractional anisotropy (FADTI) and mean, radial, and axial diffusivity, and one FA index based on the tensor distribution function (FATDF), in 24 bilaterally averaged WM regions of interest. We found that protocol differences significantly affected dMRI indices, in particular FADTI. We ranked the diffusion indices for their strength of association with four clinical assessments. In addition to diagnosis, we evaluated cognitive impairment as indexed by three commonly used screening tools for detecting dementia and AD: the AD Assessment Scale (ADAS-cog), the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), and the Clinical Dementia Rating scale sum-of-boxes (CDR-sob). Using a nested random-effects regression model to account for protocol and site, we found that across all dMRI indices and clinical measures, the hippocampal-cingulum and fornix (crus)/stria terminalis regions most consistently showed strong associations with clinical impairment. Overall, the greatest effect sizes were detected in the hippocampal-cingulum (CGH) and uncinate fasciculus (UNC) for associations between axial or mean diffusivity and CDR-sob. FATDF detected robust widespread associations with clinical measures, while FADTI was the weakest of the five indices for detecting associations. Ultimately, we were able to successfully pool dMRI data from multiple acquisition protocols from ADNI3 and detect consistent and robust associations with clinical impairment and age.


ADNI3; Alzheimer’s disease; ComBat; DTI; TDF; harmonization; multi-site; white matter

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