Objectives: White matter lesions are a very common finding on MRI in older adults and their presence increases the risk of stroke and dementia. Accurate and computationally efficient modelling methods are necessary to map the association of lesion incidence with risk factors, such as hypertension. However, there is no consensus in the brain mapping literature whether a voxel-wise modelling approach is better for binary lesion data than a more computationally intensive spatial modelling approach that accounts for voxel dependence. Methods: We review three regression approaches for modelling binary lesion masks including mass-univariate probit regression modelling with either maximum likelihood estimates, or mean bias-reduced estimates, and spatial Bayesian modelling, where the regression coefficients have a conditional autoregressive model prior to account for local spatial dependence. We design a novel simulation framework of artificial lesion maps to compare the three alternative lesion mapping methods. The age effect on lesion probability estimated from a reference data set (13,680 individuals from the UK Biobank) is used to simulate a realistic voxel-wise distribution of lesions across age. To mimic the real features of lesion masks, we suggest matching brain lesion summaries (total lesion volume, average lesion size and lesion count) across the reference data set and the simulated data sets. Thus, we allow for a fair comparison between the modelling approaches, under a realistic simulation setting. Results: Our findings suggest that bias-reduced estimates for voxel-wise binary-response generalized linear models (GLMs) overcome the drawbacks of infinite and biased maximum likelihood estimates and scale well for large data sets because voxel-wise estimation can be performed in parallel across voxels. Contrary to the assumption of spatial dependence being key in lesion mapping, our results show that voxel-wise bias-reduction and spatial modelling result in largely similar estimates. Conclusion: Bias-reduced estimates for voxel-wise GLMs are not only accurate but also computationally efficient, which will become increasingly important as more biobank-scale neuroimaging data sets become available.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience