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Title: Characterising population variability in brain structure through models of whole-brain structural connectivity
Author: Robinson, Emma Claire
ISNI:       0000 0004 2688 7797
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2010
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Models of whole-brain connectivity are valuable for understanding neurological function. This thesis seeks to develop an optimal framework for extracting models of whole-brain connectivity from clinically acquired diffusion data. We propose new approaches for studying these models. The aim is to develop techniques which can take models of brain connectivity and use them to identify biomarkers or phenotypes of disease. The models of connectivity are extracted using a standard probabilistic tractography algorithm, modified to assess the structural integrity of tracts, through estimates of white matter anisotropy. Connections are traced between 77 regions of interest, automatically extracted by label propagation from multiple brain atlases followed by classifier fusion. The estimates of tissue integrity for each tract are input as indices in 77x77 ”connectivity” matrices, extracted for large populations of clinical data. These are compared in subsequent studies. To date, most whole-brain connectivity studies have characterised population differences using graph theory techniques. However these can be limited in their ability to pinpoint the locations of differences in the underlying neural anatomy. Therefore, this thesis proposes new techniques. These include a spectral clustering approach for comparing population differences in the clustering properties of weighted brain networks. In addition, machine learning approaches are suggested for the first time. These are particularly advantageous as they allow classification of subjects and extraction of features which best represent the differences between groups. One limitation of the proposed approach is that errors propagate from segmentation and registration steps prior to tractography. This can cumulate in the assignment of false positive connections, where the contribution of these factors may vary across populations, causing the appearance of population differences where there are none. The final contribution of this thesis is therefore to develop a common co-ordinate space approach. This combines probabilistic models of voxel-wise diffusion for each subject into a single probabilistic model of diffusion for the population. This allows tractography to be performed only once, ensuring that there is one model of connectivity. Cross-subject differences can then be identified by mapping individual subjects’ anisotropy data to this model. The approach is used to compare populations separated by age and gender.
Supervisor: Rueckert, Daniel ; Edwards, David Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral