Multicentre structural and functional MRI
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Neuroimaging techniques are likely to continue to improve our understanding of the brain in health and disease, but studies tend to be small, based in one imaging centre and of uncertain generalisability. Multicentre imaging studies therefore have great appeal but it is not yet clear under which circumstances data from different scanners can be combined. The successful harmonisation of multiple Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines will increase study power, flexibility and generalisability. I have conducted a detailed study of the performance of three research MRI scanners in Scotland under the name CaliBrain, with the aims of developing reliable, valid image acquisition and analysis techniques that will facilitate multicentre MRI studies in Scotland and beyond. Fourteen healthy volunteers had two brain scans on each of three 1.5T MRI research machines in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The scans usually took place 2-3 weeks apart. Each scan was performed using an identical scanning protocol consisting of a detailed structural MRI (sMRI) and a range of functional MRI (fMRI) paradigms. The quality assurance (QA) of scanner performance was monitored in all three sites over the duration of the study using a three-part protocol comprising a baseline assessment, regular measures and session specific measures. The analyses have demonstrated that the data are comparable but also that within- and between-scanner variances are evident and that harmonisation work could enhance the level of agreement. The QA data suggest that scanner performance was similar between and within machines over the course of the study. For the structural MRI scans an optimised methodology was utilised to minimise variation in brain geometry between scanners and fit all the scanned brains into a common stereotactic space, such that repeated measures analyses yielded no significant differences over time for any of the three scanners. I examined the reproducibility of the fMRI motor task within and between the three sites. Similar results were obtained in all analyses; areas consistently activated by the task include the premotor, primary motor and supplementary motor areas, the striatum and the cerebellum. Reproducibility of statistical parametric maps was evaluated within and between sites comparing the activation extent and spatial agreement of maps at both the subject and the group level. The results were within the range reported by studies examining the reproducibility of similar tasks on one scanner and reproducibility was found to be comparable within and between sites, with between site comparisons often exceeding the within site measures. A components of variance analysis showed a relatively small contribution of the factor site with subject being the main source of variation. Similar results were obtained for the working memory task. The analysis of the emotional face processing task showed poor reproducibility both within and between sites. These findings suggest that multicentre structural and functional MRI studies are feasible, at least on similar machines, when a consistent protocol is followed in all participating scanning sites, a suitable fMRI task is employed and appropriate analysis methods are used.