Fractal descriptors for quantifying brain complexity in MRI

Marzi, Chiara (2020) Fractal descriptors for quantifying brain complexity in MRI, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Ingegneria biomedica, elettrica e dei sistemi, 32 Ciclo.
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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is the in vivo technique most commonly employed to characterize changes in brain structures. The conventional MRI-derived morphological indices are able to capture only partial aspects of brain structural complexity. Fractal geometry and its most popular index, the fractal dimension (FD), can characterize self-similar structures including grey matter (GM) and white matter (WM). Previous literature shows the need for a definition of the so-called fractal scaling window, within which each structure manifests self-similarity. This justifies the existence of fractal properties and confirms Mandelbrot’s assertion that "fractals are not a panacea; they are not everywhere". In this work, we propose a new approach to automatically determine the fractal scaling window, computing two new fractal descriptors, i.e., the minimal and maximal fractal scales (mfs and Mfs). Our method was implemented in a software package, validated on phantoms and applied on large datasets of structural MR images. We demonstrated that the FD is a useful marker of morphological complexity changes that occurred during brain development and aging and, using ultra-high magnetic field (7T) examinations, we showed that the cerebral GM has fractal properties also below the spatial scale of 1 mm. We applied our methodology in two neurological diseases. We observed the reduction of the brain structural complexity in SCA2 patients and, using a machine learning approach, proved that the cerebral WM FD is a consistent feature in predicting cognitive decline in patients with small vessel disease and mild cognitive impairment. Finally, we showed that the FD of the WM skeletons derived from diffusion MRI provides complementary information to those obtained from the FD of the WM general structure in T1-weighted images. In conclusion, the fractal descriptors of structural brain complexity are candidate biomarkers to detect subtle morphological changes during development, aging and in neurological diseases.

Tipologia del documento
Tesi di dottorato
Marzi, Chiara
Dottorato di ricerca
Settore disciplinare
Settore concorsuale
Parole chiave
MRI, brain morphological complexity, fractal geometry, fractal dimension, fractal scaling window, T1-weigthed imaging, FreeSurfer, diffusion MRI
Data di discussione
27 Marzo 2020

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