Size and shape matter: the impact of voxel geometry on the identification of small nuclei

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How, and to what extent do size and shape of a voxel measured with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) affect the ability to visualize small brain nuclei? Despite general consensus that voxel geometry affects volumetric properties of regions of interest, particularly those of small brain nuclei, no quantitative data on the influence of voxel size and shape on labeling accuracy is available. Using simulations, we investigated the selective influence of voxel geometry by reconstructing simulated ellipsoid structures with voxels varying in shape and size. For each reconstructed ellipsoid, we calculated differences in volume and similarity between the labeled volume and the predefined dimensions of the ellipsoid. Probability functions were derived from one or two individual raters and a simulated ground truth for reference. As expected, larger voxels (i.e., coarser resolution) and increasing anisotropy results in increased deviations of both volume and shape measures, which is of particular relevance for small brain structures. Our findings clearly illustrate the anatomical inaccuracies introduced by the application of large and/or anisotropic voxels. To ensure deviations occur within the acceptable range (Dice coefficient scores; DCS > 0.75, corresponding to < 57% volume deviation), the volume of isotropic voxels should not exceed 5% of the total volume of the region of interest. When high accuracy is required (DCS > 0.90, corresponding to a < 19% volume deviation), the volumes of isotropic voxels should not exceed 0.08%, of the total volume. Finally, when large anisotropic factors (>3) are used, and the ellipsoid is orthogonal to the slice axes, having its long axis in the imaging plane, the voxel volume should not exceed 0.005% of the total volume. This allows sufficient compensation of anisotropy effects, in order to reach accuracy in the acceptable range (DCS > 0.75, corresponding to >57% volume deviation).




Mulder, M. J., Keuken, M. C., Bazin, P. L., Alkemade, A., & Forstmann, B. U. (2019). Size and shape matter: the impact of voxel geometry on the identification of small nuclei. PLoS ONE, 14(4).

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