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White matter hyperintensity and stroke lesion segmentation and differentiation using convolutional neural networks


The accurate assessment of White matter hyperintensities (WMH) burden is of crucial importance for epidemiological studies to determine association between WMHs, cognitive and clinical data. The manual delineation of WMHs is tedious, costly and time consuming. This is further complicated by the fact that other pathological features (i.e. stroke lesions) often also appear as hyperintense. Several automated methods aiming to tackle the challenges of WMH segmentation have been proposed, however cannot differentiate between WMH and strokes. Other methods, capable of distinguishing between different pathologies in brain MRI, are not designed with simultaneous WMH and stroke segmentation in mind. In this work we propose to use a convolutional neural network (CNN) that is able to segment hyperintensities and differentiate between WMHs and stroke lesions. Specifically, we aim to distinguish between WMH pathologies from those caused by stroke lesions due to either cortical, large or small subcortical infarcts. As far as we know, this is the first time such differentiation task has explicitly been proposed. The proposed fully convolutional CNN architecture, is comprised of an analysis path, that gradually learns low and high level features, followed by a synthesis path, that gradually combines and up-samples the low and high level features into a class likelihood semantic segmentation. Quantitatively, the proposed CNN architecture is shown to outperform other well established and state-of-the-art algorithms in terms of overlap with manual expert annotations. Clinically, the extracted WMH volumes were found to correlate better with the Fazekas visual rating score. Additionally, a comparison of the associations found between clinical risk-factors and the WMH volumes generated by the proposed method, were found to be in line with the associations found with the expert-annotated volumes.