Recent works fail to leverage the 3D structure of the brain, instead treating the brain as a set of independent 2D slices. Such architectures make assumptions about the input that may not hold for neuroimaging. There is a need to explore novel CNN architectures tailored to brain images.
Given the wide success of convolutional neural networks (CNNs) applied to natural images, researchers have begun to apply them to neuroimaging data. To date, however, exploration of novel CNN architectures tailored to neuroimaging data has been limited. Several recent works fail to leverage the 3D structure of the brain, instead treating the brain as a set of independent 2D slices. Approaches that do utilize 3D convolutions rely on architectures developed for object recognition tasks in natural 2D images. Such architectures make assumptions about the input that may not hold for neuroimaging. For example, existing architectures assume that patterns in the brain exhibit translation invariance. However, a pattern in the brain may have different meaning depending on where in the brain it is located. There is a need to explore novel architectures that are tailored to brain images. We present two simple modifications to existing CNN architectures based on brain image structure. Applied to the task of brain age prediction, our network achieves a mean absolute error (MAE) of 1.4 years and trains 30% faster than a CNN baseline that achieves a MAE of 1.6 years. Our results suggest that lessons learned from developing models on natural images may not directly transfer to neuroimaging tasks. Instead, there remains a large space of unexplored questions regarding model development in this area, whose answers may differ from conventional wisdom.