The value of arterial spin labelling perfusion MRI in brain age prediction

Mathijs B. J. Dijsselhof, Michelle Barboure, Michael Stritt, Wibeke Nordhøy, Alle Meije Wink, Dani Beck, Lars T. Westlye, James H. Cole, Frederik Barkhof, Henk J. M. M. Mutsaerts, Jan Petr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Current structural MRI-based brain age estimates and their difference from chronological age—the brain age gap (BAG)—are limited to late-stage pathological brain-tissue changes. The addition of physiological MRI features may detect early-stage pathological brain alterations and improve brain age prediction. This study investigated the optimal combination of structural and physiological arterial spin labelling (ASL) image features and algorithms. Healthy participants (n = 341, age 59.7 ± 14.8 years) were scanned at baseline and after 1.7 ± 0.5 years follow-up (n = 248, mean age 62.4 ± 13.3 years). From 3 T MRI, structural (T1w and FLAIR) volumetric ROI and physiological (ASL) cerebral blood flow (CBF) and spatial coefficient of variation ROI features were constructed. Multiple combinations of features and machine learning algorithms were evaluated using the Mean Absolute Error (MAE). From the best model, longitudinal BAG repeatability and feature importance were assessed. The ElasticNetCV algorithm using T1w + FLAIR+ASL performed best (MAE = 5.0 ± 0.3 years), and better compared with using T1w + FLAIR (MAE = 6.0 ± 0.4 years, p <.01). The three most important features were, in descending order, GM CBF, GM/ICV, and WM CBF. Average baseline and follow-up BAGs were similar (−1.5 ± 6.3 and − 1.1 ± 6.4 years respectively, ICC = 0.85, 95% CI: 0.8–0.9, p =.16). The addition of ASL features to structural brain age, combined with the ElasticNetCV algorithm, improved brain age prediction the most, and performed best in a cross-sectional and repeatability comparison. These findings encourage future studies to explore the value of ASL in brain age in various pathologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2754-2766
Number of pages13
JournalHuman brain mapping
Issue number7
Early online date2023
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • ASL
  • ageing
  • brain age
  • cerebral perfusion
  • cerebrovascular health
  • machine learning

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