Transformer-based normative modelling for anomaly detection of early schizophrenia

Despite the impact of psychiatric disorders on clinical health, early-stage diagnosis remains a challenge. Machine learning studies have shown that classifiers tend to be overly narrow in the diagnosis prediction task. The overlap between conditions leads to high heterogeneity among participants that is not adequately captured by classification models. To address this issue, normative approaches have surged as an alternative method. By using a generative model to learn the distribution of healthy brain data patterns, we can identify the presence of pathologies as deviations or outliers from the distribution learned by the model. In particular, deep generative models showed great results as normative models to identify neurological lesions in the brain. However, unlike most neurological lesions, psychiatric disorders present subtle changes widespread in several brain regions, making these alterations challenging to identify. In this work, we evaluate the performance of transformer-based normative models to detect subtle brain changes expressed in adolescents and young adults. We trained our model on 3D MRI scans of neurotypical individuals (N=1,765). Then, we obtained the likelihood of neurotypical controls and psychiatric patients with early-stage schizophrenia from an independent dataset (N=93) from the Human Connectome Project. Using the predicted likelihood of the scans as a proxy for a normative score, we obtained an AUROC of 0.82 when assessing the difference between controls and individuals with early-stage schizophrenia. Our approach surpassed recent normative methods based on brain age and Gaussian Process, showing the promising use of deep generative models to help in individualised analyses.

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