Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an important tool for analysis of deep brain grey matter structures. However, analysis of these structures is limited due to low intensity contrast typically found in whole brain imaging protocols. Herein, we propose a big data registration-enhancement (BDRE) technique to augment the contrast of deep brain structures using an efficient large-scale non-rigid registration strategy. Direct validation is problematic given a lack of ground truth data. Rather, we validate the usefulness and impact of BDRE for multi-atlas (MA) segmentation on two sets of structures of clinical interest: the thalamic nuclei and hippocampal subfields. The experimental design compares algorithms using T1-weighted 3 T MRI for both structures (and additional 7 T MRI for the thalamic nuclei) with an algorithm using BDRE. As baseline comparisons, a recent denoising (DN) technique and a super-resolution (SR) method are used to preprocess the original 3 T MRI. The performance of each MA segmentation is evaluated by the Dice similarity coefficient (DSC). BDRE significantly improves mean segmentation accuracy over all methods tested for both thalamic nuclei (3 T imaging: 9.1%; 7 T imaging: 15.6%; DN: 6.9%; SR: 16.2%) and hippocampal subfields (3 T T1 only: 8.7%; DN: 8.4%; SR: 8.6%). We also present DSC performance for each thalamic nucleus and hippocampal subfield and show that BDRE can help MA segmentation for individual thalamic nuclei and hippocampal subfields. This work will enable large-scale analysis of clinically relevant deep brain structures from commonly acquired T1 images.
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