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Med Image Comput Comput Assist Interv. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 October 13.

Published in final edited form as:

Med Image Comput Comput Assist Interv. 2012; 15(0 2): 138–145.

PMCID: PMC3796182

NIHMSID: NIHMS444732

Junning Li,^{1} Yonggang Shi,^{1} Giang Tran,^{3} Ivo Dinov,^{1} Danny J.J. Wang,^{2} and Arthur W. Toga^{1}

Junning Li: Junning.Li/at/loni.ucla.edu; Yonggang Shi: yshi/at/loni.ucla.edu; Giang Tran: giangtran/at/math.ucla.edu; Ivo Dinov: ivo.dinov/at/loni.ucla.edu; Danny J.J. Wang: JJ.Wang/at/loni.ucla.edu; Arthur W. Toga: toga/at/loni.ucla.edu

Diffusion tensor imaging is widely used in brain connectivity study. As more and more group studies recruit a large number of subjects, it is important to design registration methods that are not only theoretically rigorous, but also computationally efficient, for processing large data sets. However, the requirement of reorienting diffusion tensors complicates and slows down the registration, especially for those methods whose scalar-image versions have linear complexity, for example, the Demons algorithm. In this paper, we propose an extension of the Demons algorithm that incorporates exact reorientation and regularization into the calculation of deforming velocity, yet preserving its linear complexity. This method restores the computational efficiency of the Demons algorithm to diffusion images, but does not sacrifice registration goodness. In our experiments, the new algorithm achieved state-of-art performance at a ten-fold decrease of computational time.

Water molecules in biology tissue tend to diffuse faster along, relative to across, obstacle structures. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) noninvasively measures this anisotropy (approximated with second-order tensors), providing information about structures such as neural fibers. As more and more large group studies, such as those sponsored by the Human Connnectome Project [1], require nonlinear normalization of diffusion tensor images, it is important to design deformation registration methods that are not only theoretically rigorous, but also computationally efficient, for processing large data sets.

Registration of diffusion tensor images is more complicated than scalar images, because displacing a voxel to a new place does not only change its own diffusion tensor value, but also reorients those of its adjacent voxels [2]. As a result, the deformation force is no longer independent for adjacent voxels, but has a sparse 3D grid structure.

Because reorientation significantly complicates the computation, methods based on rotation-invariant features have been developed. Many of these methods first extract scalar-valued or vector-valued features from tensors, for instance, the fractional anisotropy (FA), and then register diffusion images by aligning these features with multi-channel registration [3,4].

Some other methods directly work on tensors, with similarity metric defined
on tensors, and indirect or direct involvement of reorientation into velocity field
optimization. Alexander and Gee [5]
reorientated tensors according to the new displacement field after each iteration,
though not directly accounted the reorientation into optimization. Zhang *et
al.* [6] applied piece-wise affine
registration to image subblocks, and then fused these transformations together by
smoothing. Since finite-strain (FS) reorientation [2] can be analytically incorporated into affine transformation, the
method efficiently estimates the optimal local affine parameters, but it is not
clear how the fusion step affects the total registration energy. Cao *et
al.* [7] extended the Large
Deformation Diffeomorphic Metric Mapping framework, to analytically embed the
preservation-of-principal-direction (PPD) reorientation [2] into the deforming force. In 2009, Yeo *et
al.*
8] embedded exact FS reorientation into the
diffeomorphic Demons algorithm [9,10], showing that exact reorientation
considerably improved registration accuracy.

Yeo *et al.*’s work [8] was based on the Demons algorithm, a fast algorithm with
*O*(*n*) complexity for scalar images, where
*n* is the number of voxels. However, because a large sparse
linear system was solved at every iteration, the algorithm became considerably
slower. This effect becomes more exacerbated for such an algorithm whose
scalar-image version enjoys linear complexity. For example, for our DTI images of
size 128×128×128, the method took about 7 hours and more than 20
Giga Bytes (GB) memory on a desktop with an Intel Xeon 2.80 GHz CPU. On the other
hand, the regularization on the displacement field was separated as a Gaussian
smoothing step after updating the displacement field. This may not be always
consistent with the diffeomorphic framework [10].

This raises the question “can the Demons algorithm still enjoy its
*O*(*n*) complexity when the deformation force is
coupled between adjacent voxels and regularization is incorporated?” Though
this question is raised from diffusion tensor images, it is generally applicable to
other diffusion images, such as high-angular-resolution diffusion images (HARDI) and
diffusion spectrum images (DSI). We are particularly interested in the Demons
algorithm, because its original linear complexity in [9,10] is well suited for
processing large group data sets.

In this paper, we extend the Demons algorithm to incorporate both exact
reorientation and regularization into velocity calculation, but without directly
solving a large non-separable linear system. This method restores the
*O*(*n*) computational efficiency of the original
Demons algorithm to diffusion images, but does not sacrifice registration goodness,
in comparison with solving a large linear system at each iteration. In our
experiments, it introduced a 10-fold reduction of the computation time, and achieved
state-of-art registration performance.

Let *F* and *M* respectively denote the
fixed and moving image, *u* and *v* respectively
denote the transformation field and velocity field, denote the
compositive operator, •(*i*) denote the image value at
voxel *i*, •_{i} and
•_{x} denote the velocity, displacement
or a certain value associated respectively with a voxel *i* or a
point *x*. The diffeomorphic Demons algorithm for scalar images
in [10] is as follows:

**Repeat** until convergence

**For each**voxel*i*, at iteration*k*, given current transformation field*u*:^{k}**Define***bi*(*v*) =*F*(*i*) −*M*[*u*exp(^{k}*v*)](*i*).**Let***b*=_{i}*b*(_{i}*v*) |_{v=0}=*F*(*i*) −*M**u*(^{k}*i*), and**Let**, where is the velocity regularizer at voxel*i*.

**Update displacement field**with the velocity field:*u*^{k+1}=*u*exp(^{k}*v*).

The algorithm minimizes the energy function

(1)

with the displacement-velocity relationship (actually discretized as
*u*^{k+1} =
*u ^{k}* exp(

For diffusion tensor images, tensors must be reorientated during
transformation to align their directions with the transformed space.
Consequently, the displacement at a voxel not only changes its own warped tensor
value, but also reorientates those of its adjacent voxels, that is, is not zero for adjacent voxels *i* and
*j*. In this case, the energy function cannot be separated
for each voxel. For details on the formulas of tensor reorientation, please
refer to [2].

Standard regularizers for displacement fields include the elastic,
diffusion, and curvature regularizers [11] which all can be formatted as the squared norm of a certain
derivative value of the displacement field. When discretized, these regularizers
can be formulated as where *A*_{reg i} is a
differential operator at voxel *i*, represented as a matrix. In
this paper, we used ∑_{l} ∫
‖*H _{l}u*‖

As shown in Sections 2.1 and 2.2, the energy function of the Demons
algorithm, including both the dissimilarity and regularization terms, is the sum
of squares of many linear functions. Therefore, the energy function can be
written as = ‖*A _{img}v* −

In this paper, we propose a method that incorporates both tensor
reorientation and displacement regularization into its optimization iterations,
while restores the *O*(*n*) complexity of the
Demons algorithm. The algorithm is as follows, where we rewrite the energy
function as = ‖*A _{v}* −

- For each voxel
*i*:- If < < stop threshold, then let
*d*= 0, else let_{i}

- Let
- Let
- Let
*v*=*d*τ.

This algorithm first chooses a descent direction *d* with
local Gauss-Newton optimizations at Step (1a), and then determines the step
length τ with a higher-level Gauss-Newton optimization of the energy
function given direction *d*. The algorithm can be understood as
the following procedure. Each particle (or voxel) tries to take the shortest
path to minimize the global energy as much as possible (Step (1a)), without
knowing other particles’ movements. Because their movements change the
energy function jointly, rather than independently, a global step length
τ is used to coordinate their movement. This strategy is fully
compatible with Thirion’s Demons algorithm [9] when *A* is separable.

At each optimization iteration, we do not choose as the descent
direction the steepest direction *A′b*, for the following
reason. The steepest direction *A′b* sometimes is
dominated by large at some voxels (as illustrated in Fig. 1), suppressing other voxels from displacing.
Theoretically this phenomenon will disappear as approaching zero. However, in practice, on a discrete grid,
this cannot be perfectly achieved. We noticed this phenomenon when we initially
tried to use the steepest descent optimization.

This local Gauss-Newton strategy converges slower than the Gauss-Newton strategy, but it takes much less computation at each iteration. As shown in Section 2.4, its computational complexity is linear. In our experiments, it achieved equal registration goodness as the Gauss-Newton algorithm in [8], but significantly reduced the registration time and memory usage.

Though this local Gauss-Newton strategy is motivated to solve the
problem of diffusion-tensor image registration, its application is not limited
to diffusion-tensor images. Generally, it restores the
*O*(*n*) complexity to the Demons algorithm
for situations where the gradient matrix is not separable. It also allows the
Demons algorithm to directly incorporate regularization without increasing
computational complexity. Application to HARDI image registration, a computation
intensive problem, is another interesting extension.

The computational complexity of the algorithm is
*O*(*n*) where *n* is the
number of voxels of interest. For a particular voxel, its tensor reorientation
as well as its local energy function involves only the displacement of the
voxels in its neighborhood, so *A* has a block sparse structure
and the number and size of the non-zero blocks in *A _{i}*
are constant numbers fully determined by image dimension and the
regularizer’s differential operator. Therefore, Step (1a) has

Diffusion weighed images (DWI) of 120 pediatric subjects were collected
with 30-direction isotropic DTI sequence (b = 1000s/mm^{2}, voxel size=
2 × 2 × 2 mm^{3}, dimension = 128 × 128
× 128). FSL brain extraction tool (BET) was applied to the B0 images to
mask the brain region, with the “R” option turned. Due to the
long computation time (about 7 hours) and high memory demand (about 20 GB) of
the algorithm in [8], we randomly selected
12 pairs of the subjects for pair-wise registration.

For the diffeomorphic Demons algorithm proposed by Yeo *et
al*. in [8], its open source
implementation, the Tensor Toolkit (TTK) (https://gforge.inria.fr/projects/ttk) was used, with the
parameters recommended in [8]: three level
multi-scaling and each with ten iterations. For the Local Gauss-Newton Demons
algorithm, we applied the affineness regularization to the displacement field.
We adjusted the regularization weight to match the displacement smoothness of
TTK’s outputs. In Section 3.4, we evaluated the algorithms with three
types of harmonic energy, include those that our algorithm did not directly
optimize.

Tensor rooted-mean-square (RMS) difference, FA correlation coefficients (Corr. Coef.), and MD Corr. Coef., between the fixed image and the transformed moving image, were used to indicate registration similarity. Three types of harmonic energy, affineness, curvature and diffusion, were used to indicate displacement smoothness. We used different harmonic energy to give a comprehensive evaluation, avoiding the bias introduced by algorithms’ preference. All these metrics were estimated within the brain masks.

For each of the registration cases, the two algorithms achieved similar matching between the fixed images and the warped images, with similar regularization energy, while the Local Gauss-Newton algorithm took significantly less computation time and memory usage, as shown in Table 1 and Figures 2 and and3.3. Regarding FA Corr. Coef, both algorithms performed almost equally well; regarding MD Corr. Coef and tensor RMS, the Local Gauss-Newton algorithm performed better, with smoother displacement fields.

This experiment with twelve cases suggests that the Local Gauss-Newton method can achieve similar goodness at similar harmonic energy as the method in [8] does. However, the Local Gauss-Newton algorithm significantly reduced the computation time from about 7 hours to about 45 minutes, and decreased memory demand from 20 GB to 2 GB. The smoother displacement fields of the Local Gauss-Newton algorithm was possibly achieved by directly incorporating the affineness regularization into its optimization of the velocity fields.

As more and more brain-connectivity studies recruit a large number of subjects, it is important to design registration methods that are not only theoretically rigorous, but also computationally efficient, for processing large data sets. However, the requirement of reorienting diffusion tensors complicates the calculation of deforming force, and significantly slows computation.

In this paper, we propose a method for the Demons algorithm to exactly
incorporate both reorientation and regularization into deforming velocity
calculation, but without directly solving a large non-separable linear system. This
method restores the *O*(*n*) computational efficiency
of the original Demons algorithm to diffusion images, without sacrificing
registration goodness, in comparison with directly solving a large linear system at
each iteration. In our experiments, the new algorithm reduced the computation time
and memory demand for ten times.

^{*}This work is supported by grants K01EB013633, R01MH080892 9P41EB015922,
P41 RR013642, R01MH71940, U54RR021813, U24RR025736 from NIH.

1. The Human Connectome Project. http://www.humanconnectomeproject.org/

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