Background: The use of different 3D T1-weighted magnetic resonance (T1 MR) imaging protocols induces image incompatibility across multicenter studies, negating the many advantages of multicenter studies. A few methods have been developed to address this problem, but significant image incompatibility still remains. Thus, we developed a novel and convenient method to improve image compatibility.
Methods: W-score standardization creates quality reference values by using a healthy group to obtain normalized disease values. We developed a protocol-specific w-score standardization to control the protocol effect, which is applied to each protocol separately. We used three data sets. In dataset 1, brain T1 MR images of normal controls (NC) and patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) from two centers, acquired with different T1 MR protocols, were used (Protocol 1 and 2, n = 45/group). In dataset 2, data from six subjects, who underwent MRI with two different protocols (Protocol 1 and 2), were used with different repetition times, echo times, and slice thicknesses. In dataset 3, T1 MR images from a large number of healthy normal controls (Protocol 1: n = 148, Protocol 2: n = 343) were collected for w-score standardization. The protocol effect and disease effect on subjects' cortical thickness were analyzed before and after the application of protocol-specific w-score standardization.
Results: As expected, different protocols resulted in differing cortical thickness measurements in both NC and AD subjects. Different measurements were obtained for the same subject when imaged with different protocols. Multivariate pattern difference between measurements was observed between the protocols. Classification accuracy between two protocols was nearly 90%. After applying protocol-specific w-score standardization, the differences between the protocols substantially decreased. Most importantly, protocol-specific w-score standardization reduced both univariate and multivariate differences in the images while maintaining the AD disease effect. Compared to conventional regression methods, our method showed the best performance for in terms of controlling the protocol effect while preserving disease information.
Conclusions: Protocol-specific w-score standardization effectively resolved the concerns of conventional regression methods. It showed the best performance for improving the compatibility of a T1 MR post-processed feature, cortical thickness.