Hum Brain Mapp 44 (4) 1289-1308 [2023-03-00; online 2022-12-05]
Predicting brain aging can help in the early detection and prognosis of neurodegenerative diseases. Longitudinal cohorts of healthy subjects scanned through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have been essential to understand the structural brain changes due to aging. However, these cohorts suffer from missing data due to logistic issues in the recruitment of subjects. This paper proposes a methodology for filling up missing data in longitudinal cohorts with anatomically plausible images that capture the subject-specific aging process. The proposed methodology is developed within the framework of diffeomorphic registration. First, two novel modules are introduced within Synthmorph, a fast, state-of-the-art deep learning-based diffeomorphic registration method, to simulate the aging process between the first and last available MRI scan for each subject in three-dimensional (3D). The use of image registration also makes the generated images plausible by construction. Second, we used six image similarity measurements to rearrange the generated images to the specific age range. Finally, we estimated the age of every generated image by using the assumption of linear brain decay in healthy subjects. The methodology was evaluated on 2662 T1-weighted MRI scans from 796 healthy participants from 3 different longitudinal cohorts: Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, Open Access Series of Imaging Studies-3, and Group of Neuropsychological Studies of the Canary Islands (GENIC). In total, we generated 7548 images to simulate the access of a scan per subject every 6 months in these cohorts. We evaluated the quality of the synthetic images using six quantitative measurements and a qualitative assessment by an experienced neuroradiologist with state-of-the-art results. The assumption of linear brain decay was accurate in these cohorts (R2 ∈ [.924, .940]). The experimental results show that the proposed methodology can produce anatomically plausible aging predictions that can be used to enhance longitudinal datasets. Compared to deep learning-based generative methods, diffeomorphic registration is more likely to preserve the anatomy of the different structures of the brain, which makes it more appropriate for its use in clinical applications. The proposed methodology is able to efficiently simulate anatomically plausible 3D MRI scans of brain aging of healthy subjects from two images scanned at two different time points.