Fletcher E, Gavett B, Crane P, Soldan A, Hohman T, Farias S, Widaman K, Groot C, Renteria MA, Zahodne L, DeCarli C, Mungas D. A robust brain signature region approach for episodic memory performance in older adults. Brain : a journal of neurology. 2021 Dec 7;144(144). 1089-1102. PMID: 33895818 [PubMed] PMCID: PMC8105039
The brain signature concept aims to characterize brain regions most strongly associated with an outcome of interest. Brain signatures derive their power from data-driven searches that select features based solely on performance metrics of prediction or classification. This approach has important potential to delineate biologically relevant brain substrates for prediction or classification of future trajectories. Recent work has used exploratory voxel-wise or atlas-based searches, with some using machine learning techniques to define salient features. These have shown undoubted usefulness, but two issues remain. The preponderance of recent work has been aimed at categorical rather than continuous outcomes, and it is rare for non-atlas reliant voxel-based signatures to be reported that would be useful for modelling and hypothesis testing. We describe a cross-validated signature region model for structural brain components associated with baseline and longitudinal episodic memory across cognitively heterogeneous populations including normal, mild impairment and dementia. We used three non-overlapping cohorts of older participants: from the UC Davis Aging and Diversity cohort (n = 255; mean age 75.3 ± 7.1 years; 128 cognitively normal, 97 mild cognitive impairment, 30 demented and seven unclassified); from Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) 1 (n = 379; mean age 75.1 ± 7.2; 82 cognitively normal, 176 mild cognitive impairment, 121 Alzheimer's dementia); and from ADNI2/GO (n = 680; mean age 72.5 ± 7.1; 220 cognitively normal, 381 mild cognitive impairment and 79 Alzheimer's dementia). We used voxel-wise regression analysis, correcting for multiple comparisons, to generate an array of regional masks corresponding to different association strength levels of cortical grey matter with baseline memory and brain atrophy with memory change. Cognitive measures were episodic memory using Spanish and English Neuropsychological Assessment Scales instruments for UC Davis and ADNI-Mem for ADNI 1 and ADNI2/GO. Performance metric was the adjusted R2 coefficient of determination of each model explaining outcomes in two cohorts other than where it was computed. We compared within-cohort performances of signature models against each other and against other recent signature models of episodic memory. Findings were: (i) two independently generated signature region of interest models performed similarly in a third separate cohort; (ii) a signature region of interest generated in one imaging cohort replicated its performance level when explaining cognitive outcomes in each of other, separate cohorts; and (iii) this approach better explained baseline and longitudinal memory than other recent theory-driven and data-driven models. This suggests our approach can generate signatures that may be easily and robustly applied for modelling and hypothesis testing in mixed cognition cohorts.