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PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e22193. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022193. Epub 2011 Jul 29.

Age correction in dementia--matching to a healthy brain.

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Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.


In recent research, many univariate and multivariate approaches have been proposed to improve automatic classification of various dementia syndromes using imaging data. Some of these methods do not provide the possibility to integrate possible confounding variables like age into the statistical evaluation. A similar problem sometimes exists in clinical studies, as it is not always possible to match different clinical groups to each other in all confounding variables, like for example, early-onset (age<65 years) and late-onset (age≥65) patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD). Here, we propose a simple method to control for possible effects of confounding variables such as age prior to statistical evaluation of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data using support vector machine classification (SVM) or voxel-based morphometry (VBM). We compare SVM results for the classification of 80 AD patients and 79 healthy control subjects based on MRI data with and without prior age correction. Additionally, we compare VBM results for the comparison of three different groups of AD patients differing in age with the same group of control subjects obtained without including age as covariate, with age as covariate or with prior age correction using the proposed method. SVM classification using the proposed method resulted in higher between-group classification accuracy compared to uncorrected data. Further, applying the proposed age correction substantially improved univariate detection of disease-related grey matter atrophy using VBM in AD patients differing in age from control subjects. The results suggest that the approach proposed in this work is generally suited to control for confounding variables such as age in SVM or VBM analyses. Accordingly, the approach might improve and extend the application of these methods in clinical neurosciences.

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