Longitudinal ComBat: A method for harmonizing longitudinal multi-scanner imaging data

Series of brain scans

While aggregation of neuroimaging datasets from multiple sites and scanners can yield increased statistical power, it also presents challenges due to systematic scanner effects. This unwanted technical variability can introduce noise and bias into estimation of biological variability of interest. We propose a method for harmonizing longitudinal multi-scanner imaging data based on ComBat, a method originally developed for genomics and later adapted to cross-sectional neuroimaging data. Using longitudinal cortical thickness measurements from 663 participants in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) study, we demonstrate the presence of additive and multiplicative scanner effects in various brain regions. We compare estimates of the association between diagnosis and change in cortical thickness over time using three versions of the ADNI data: unharmonized data, data harmonized using cross-sectional ComBat, and data harmonized using longitudinal ComBat. In simulation studies, we show that longitudinal ComBat is more powerful for detecting longitudinal change than cross-sectional ComBat and controls the type I error rate better than unharmonized data with scanner included as a covariate. The proposed method would be useful for other types of longitudinal data requiring harmonization, such as genomic data, or neuroimaging studies of neurodevelopment, psychiatric disorders, or other neurological diseases. Beer et al. (2020) 


The Penn Statistics in Imaging and Visualization Endeavor (PennSIVE) consists of a group of statisticians studying etiology and clinical practice through medical imaging. 


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