Test-retest variability of brain morphometry analysis: an investigation of sequence and coil effects

Shuang Yan, Tianyi Qian, Bénédicte Maréchal, Tobias Kober, Xianchang Zhang, Jinxia Zhu, Jing Lei, Mingli Li, Zhengyu Jin


Background: Precise and reliable brain morphometry analysis is critical for clinical and research purposes. The magnetization-prepared rapid gradient echo (MPRAGE), multi-echo MPRAGE (MEMPRAGE) and magnetization-prepared 2 rapid acquisition gradient echo (MP2RAGE) sequences have all been used to acquire brain structural images, but it is unclear which of these sequences is the most suitable for brain morphometry and whether the number of coil channels (20 or 32) affects scan precision. This study aimed to assess the impact of T1-weighted image acquisition variables (sequence and head coil) on the repeatability of resultant automated volumetric measurements.
Methods: Twenty-four healthy volunteers underwent back-to-back scanning protocols with three sequences and two different coils (i.e., six scanning conditions in total) presented in a randomized order in a single session. MorphoBox prototype and FreeSurfer were used for brain segmentation. Brain structures were divided into cortical and subcortical regions for more precise analysis. The acquired volume and thickness values were used to calculate test-retest variability (TRV) values. TRV values from the six different combinations were compared for total brain structures, total cortical structures, total subcortical structures, and every single structure.
Results: The median TRV value for all brain regions was 1.23% with MorphoBox and 3.14% with FreeSurfer. When using FreeSurfer results to compare the six combinations, for total brain structures volume and total cortical structures volume and thickness, the MEMPRAGE-32 channel combination showed significantly lower TRV values than the others (P<0.01). Similar results were observed with MorphoBox. For total subcortical structures, the MP2RAGE-32 channel combination showed the lowest TRV values with both MorphoBox (lower about 0.01% to 0.17%) and FreeSurfer analyses (lower about 0.02% to 0.37%).
Conclusions: TRV values were generally low, indicating generally high reliability for every region. The MEMPRAGE sequence was the most reliable of the three sequences for total brain structures and cortical structures. However, MP2RAGE was the most reliable for subcortical structures. The 32-channel coil showed better repeatability results than the 20-channel coil.