Despite decades of research in neuroimaging, the global community has yet to establish the normative range of the size of human brain regions. Normative values, commonplace in psychology (e.g., IQ) and medicine (e.g., blood sugar levels), aid in risk assessment and diagnosis on an individual level. However, even experienced neuroimagers are currently unable to define normal ranges of brain regions, like hippocampal volume based on sex and age. Consequently, assessments of brain abnormalities in neuropsychiatric conditions rely heavily on case-control designs, that typically lack sufficient sample size and diversity to capture normative variation..

CentileBrain is a groundbreaking initiative, published in Lancet Digital Health, that addresses this critical gap, marking a significant advancement in brain imaging. Led by researchers from the University of British Columbia, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and the ENIGMA Lifespan Working Group, the study provides data on human brain region sizes from over 37,000 healthy individuals aged 3-90 years worldwide. This new resource paves the way for enhanced early detection of disorders associated with significant deviations in brain structure.

Normative modeling, an advanced statistical method, quantifies individual deviations from normative reference populations in brain imaging data. The research team, including experts in neuroimaging and computational modeling, evaluated various statistical approaches to create robust lifetime charts of regional brain volumes.

“Normative modeling holds unprecedented potential for understanding brain alterations in neuropsychiatric disorders,” says Dr. Ruiyang Ge, lead author of the study. “Yet, the models’ robustness requires rigorous empirical investigation, motivating our comprehensive examination.”

Dr. Sophia Frangou, President’s Excellence Research Chair in Brain Health and Professor in UBC’s Department of Psychiatry,¬†who spearheaded the initiative, highlights the significance of their findings.

“Our empirically benchmarked framework, available through CentileBrain.org, represents a major milestone in personalized brain structure, function, and brain-age measures,” she says. “This platform will standardize brain imaging analysis, benefiting researchers and clinicians alike, ultimately aiming to enhance patient care and outcomes.”

Dr. Paul Thompson, leader of the ENIGMA consortium, also emphasizes the potential for translating these findings into tangible advancements in patient care and outcomes. The paper has already garnered attention within the scientific community and is poised to drive further progress in neuroimaging research. It is an example of the power of data science to unravel the complexities of the human brain.

For more information, please contact Dr. Sophia Frangou or Dr. Ruiyang Ge.