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An uncertainty-aware, shareable, and transparent neural network architecture for brain-age modeling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Tim Hahn, Jan Ernsting, Nils R Winter, Vincent Holstein, Ramona Leenings, Marie Beisemann, Lukas Fisch, Kelvin Sarink, Daniel Emden, Nils Opel, Ronny Redlich, Jonathan Repple, Dominik Grotegerd, Susanne Meinert, Jochen G Hirsch, Thoralf Niendorf, Beate Endemann, Fabian Bamberg, Thomas Kröncke, Robin Bülow & 13 more Henry Völzke, Oyunbileg von Stackelberg, Ramona Felizitas Sowade, Lale Umutlu, Börge Schmidt, Svenja Caspers, Harald Kugel, Tilo Kircher, Benjamin Risse, Christian Gaser, James H Cole, Udo Dannlowski, Klaus Berger

Original languageEnglish
Article numberabg9471
JournalScience Advances
Issue number1
Accepted/In press11 Nov 2021
Published5 Jan 2022

King's Authors


The deviation between chronological age and age predicted from neuroimaging data has been identified as a sensitive risk marker of cross-disorder brain changes, growing into a cornerstone of biological age research. However, machine learning models underlying the field do not consider uncertainty, thereby confounding results with training data density and variability. Also, existing models are commonly based on homogeneous training sets, often not independently validated, and cannot be shared because of data protection issues. Here, we introduce an uncertainty-aware, shareable, and transparent Monte Carlo dropout composite quantile regression (MCCQR) Neural Network trained on N = 10,691 datasets from the German National Cohort. The MCCQR model provides robust, distribution-free uncertainty quantification in high-dimensional neuroimaging data, achieving lower error rates compared with existing models. In two examples, we demonstrate that it prevents spurious associations and increases power to detect deviant brain aging. We make the pretrained model and code publicly available.

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