Idea: Methodology for evaluation of a person's brain change relative to a population standard.
Abstract: Longitudinal neuroimaging studies offer valuable insight into intricate dynamics of brain development, aging, and disease progression over time. However, prevailing analytical approaches rooted in our understanding of population variation are primarily tailored for cross-sectional studies. To fully harness the potential of longitudinal neuroimaging data, we have to develop and refine methodologies that are adapted to longitudinal designs, considering the complex interplay between population variation and individual dynamics.
We build on normative modeling framework, which enables the evaluation of an individual's position compared to a population standard. We extend this framework to evaluate an individual's change compared to standard dynamics. Thus, we exploit the existing normative models pre-trained on over 58,000 individuals and adapt the framework so that they can also be used in the evaluation of longitudinal studies. Specifically, we introduce a quantitative metric termed "z-diff" score, which serves as an indicator of change of an individual compared to a population standard. Notably, our framework offers advantages such as flexibility in dataset size and ease of implementation.
To illustrate our approach, we applied it to a longitudinal dataset of 98 patients diagnosed with early-stage schizophrenia who underwent MRI examinations shortly after diagnosis and one year later.
Compared to cross-sectional analyses, which showed global thinning of grey matter at the first visit, our method revealed a significant normalisation of grey matter thickness in the frontal lobe over time. Furthermore, this result was not observed when using more traditional methods of longitudinal analysis, making our approach more sensitive to temporal changes.
Overall, our framework presents a flexible and effective methodology for analyzing longitudinal neuroimaging data, providing insights into the progression of a disease that would otherwise be missed when using more traditional approaches.