PURPOSE: To compare registration strategies to align arterial spin labeling (ASL) with 3D T1-weighted (T1w) images, with the goal of reducing the between-subject variability of cerebral blood flow (CBF) images.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: Multi-center 3T ASL data were collected at eight sites with four different sequences in the multi-center GENetic Frontotemporal dementia Initiative (GENFI) study. In a total of 48 healthy controls, we compared the following image registration options: (I) which images to use for registration (perfusion-weighted images [PWI] to the segmented gray matter (GM) probability map (pGM) (CBF-pGM) or M0 to T1w (M0-T1w); (II) which transformation to use (rigid-body or non-rigid); and (III) whether to mask or not (no masking, M0-based FMRIB software library Brain Extraction Tool [BET] masking). In addition to visual comparison, we quantified image similarity using the Pearson correlation coefficient (CC), and used the Mann-Whitney U rank sum test.
RESULTS: CBF-pGM outperformed M0-T1w (CC improvement 47.2% ± 22.0%; P < 0.001), and the non-rigid transformation outperformed rigid-body (20.6% ± 5.3%; P < 0.001). Masking only improved the M0-T1w rigid-body registration (14.5% ± 15.5%; P = 0.007).
CONCLUSION: The choice of image registration strategy impacts ASL group analyses. The non-rigid transformation is promising but requires validation. CBF-pGM rigid-body registration without masking can be used as a default strategy. In patients with expansive perfusion deficits, M0-T1w may outperform CBF-pGM in sequences with high effective spatial resolution. BET-masking only improves M0-T1w registration when the M0 image has sufficient contrast.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: 1 Technical Efficacy: Stage 1 J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2018;47:131-140.