Covariance between grey-matter measurements can reflect structural or functional brain networks though it has also been shown to be influenced by confounding factors (e.g. age, head size, scanner), which could lead to lower mapping precision (increased size of associated clusters) and create distal false positives associations in mass-univariate vertex-wise analyses. We evaluated this concern by performing state-of-the-art mass-univariate analyses (general linear model, GLM) on traits simulated from real vertex-wise grey matter data (including cortical and subcortical thickness and surface area). We contrasted the results with those from linear mixed models (LMMs), which have been shown to overcome similar issues in omics association studies. We showed that when performed on a large sample (N=8,662, UK Biobank), GLMs yielded large spatial clusters of significant vertices and greatly inflated false positive rate (Family Wise Error Rate: FWER=1, cluster false discovery rate: FDR>0.6). We showed that LMMs resulted in more parsimonious results: smaller clusters and reduced false positive rate (yet FWER>5% after Bonferroni correction) but at a cost of increased computation. In practice, the parsimony of LMMs results from controlling for the joint effect of all vertices, which prevents local and distal redundant associations from reaching significance. Next, we performed mass-univariate association analyses on five real UKB traits (age, sex, BMI, fluid intelligence and smoking status) and LMM yielded fewer and more localised associations. We identified 19 significant clusters displaying small associations with age, sex and BMI, which suggest a complex architecture of at least dozens of associated areas with those phenotypes.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience