Machine Learning Evidence for Sex Differences Consistently Influences Resting-State Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Fluctuations Across Multiple Independently Acquired Data Sets

Obada Al Zoubi, Masaya Misaki, Aki Tsuchiyagaito, Vadim Zotev, Evan White, Martin Paulus, Jerzy Bodurka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background/Introduction: Sex classification using functional connectivity from resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI) has shown promising results. This suggested that sex difference might also be embedded in the blood-oxygen-level-dependent properties such as the amplitude of low-frequency fluctuation (ALFF) and the fraction of ALFF (fALFF). This study comprehensively investigates sex differences using a reliable and explainable machine learning (ML) pipeline. Five independent cohorts of rs-fMRI with over than 5500 samples were used to assess sex classification performance and map the spatial distribution of the important brain regions. Methods: Five rs-fMRI samples were used to extract ALFF and fALFF features from predefined brain parcellations and then were fed into an unbiased and explainable ML pipeline with a wide range of methods. The pipeline comprehensively assessed unbiased performance for within-sample and across-sample validation. In addition, the parcellation effect, classifier selection, scanning length, spatial distribution, reproducibility, and feature importance were analyzed and evaluated thoroughly in the study. Results: The results demonstrated high sex classification accuracies from healthy adults (area under the curve >0.89), while degrading for nonhealthy subjects. Sex classification showed moderate to good intraclass correlation coefficient based on parcellation. Linear classifiers outperform nonlinear classifiers. Sex differences could be detected even with a short rs-fMRI scan (e.g., 2 min). The spatial distribution of important features overlaps with previous results from studies. Discussion: Sex differences are consistent in rs-fMRI and should be considered seriously in any study design, analysis, or interpretation. Features that discriminate males and females were found to be distributed across several different brain regions, suggesting a complex mosaic for sex differences in rs-fMRI. The presented study unraveled that sex differences are embedded in the blood-oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) and can be predicted using unbiased and explainable machine learning pipeline. The study revealed that psychiatric disorders and demographics might influence the BOLD signal and interact with the classification of sex. The spatial distribution of the important features presented here supports the notion that the brain is a mosaic of male and female features. The findings emphasize the importance of controlling for sex when conducting brain imaging analysis. In addition, the presented framework can be adapted to classify other variables from resting-state BOLD signals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)348-361
Number of pages14
JournalBrain Connectivity
Volume12
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 May 2022
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Classification
  • Deep learning
  • fMRI
  • Machine learning
  • Resting state
  • Sex

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