Methodological issues in volumetric magnetic resonance imaging of the brain in the Edinburgh High Risk Project

H C Whalley, J N Kestelman, J E Rimmington, A Kelso, S S Abukmeil, J J Best, E C Johnstone, S M Lawrie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Edinburgh High Risk Project is a longitudinal study of brain structure (and function) in subjects at high risk of developing schizophrenia in the next 5-10 years for genetic reasons. In this article we describe the methods of volumetric analysis of structural magnetic resonance images used in the study. We also consider potential sources of error in these methods: the validity of our image analysis techniques; inter- and intra-rater reliability; possible positional variation; and thresholding criteria used in separating brain from cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF). Investigation with a phantom test object (of similar imaging characteristics to the brain) provided evidence for the validity of our image acquisition and analysis techniques. Both inter- and intra-rater reliability were found to be good in whole brain measures but less so for smaller regions. There were no statistically significant differences in positioning across the three study groups (patients with schizophrenia, high risk subjects and normal volunteers). A new technique for thresholding MRI scans longitudinally is described (the 'rescale' method) and compared with our established method (thresholding by eye). Few differences between the two techniques were seen at 3- and 6-month follow-up. These findings demonstrate the validity and reliability of the structural MRI analysis techniques used in the Edinburgh High Risk Project, and highlight methodological issues of general concern in cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of brain structure in healthy control subjects and neuropsychiatric populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-44
Number of pages14
JournalPsychiatry Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 1999


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Great Britain
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Observer Variation
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Schizophrenia

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