Cortical Thickness Estimation: A Comparison of FreeSurfer and Three Voxel-Based Methods in a Test-Retest Analysis and a Clinical Application


The cortical thickness has been used as a biomarker to assess different cerebral conditions and to detect alterations in the cortical mantle. In this work, we compare methods from the FreeSurfer software, the Computational Anatomy Toolbox (CAT12), a Laplacian approach and a new method here proposed, based on the Euclidean Distance Transform (EDT), and its corresponding computational phantom designed to validate the calculation algorithm. At region of interest (ROI) level, within- and inter-method comparisons were carried out with a test-retest analysis, in a subset comprising 21 healthy subjects taken from the Multi-Modal MRI Reproducibility Resource (MMRR) dataset. From the Minimal Interval Resonance Imaging in Alzheimer’s Disease (MIRIAD) data, classification methods were compared in their performance to detect cortical thickness differences between 23 healthy controls (HC) and 45 subjects with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The validation of the proposed EDT-based method showed a more accurate and precise distance measurement as voxel resolution increased. For the within-method comparisons, mean test-retest measures (percentages differences/intraclass correlation/Pearson correlation) were similar for FreeSurfer (1.80%/0.90/0.95), CAT12 (1.91%/0.83/0.91), Laplacian (1.27%/0.89/0.95) and EDT (2.20%/0.88/0.94). Inter-method correlations showed moderate to strong values (R,$>$,0.77) and, in the AD comparison study, all methods were able to detect cortical alterations between groups. Surface- and voxel-based methods have advantages and drawbacks regarding computational demands and measurement precision, while thickness definition was mainly associated to the cortical thickness absolute differences among methods. However, for each method, measurements were reliable, followed similar trends along the cortex and allowed detection of cortical atrophies between HC and patients with AD.

Brain Topography