Increasing interest in the structural and functional organisation of the human brain encourages the acquisition of big data sets comprising multiple neuroimaging modalities, often accompanied by additional information obtained from health records, cognitive tests, biomarkers and genotypes. Diffusion weighted magnetic resonance imaging data enables a range of promising imaging phenotypes probing structural connections as well as macroanatomical and microstructural properties of the brain. The reliability and biological sensitivity and specificity of diffusion data depend on processing pipeline. A state‐of‐the‐art framework for data processing facilitates cross‐study harmonisation and reduces pipeline‐related variability. Using diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data from 218 individuals in the UK Biobank, we evaluate the effects of different processing steps that have been suggested to reduce imaging artefacts and improve reliability of diffusion metrics. In lack of a ground truth, we compared diffusion metric sensitivity to age between pipelines. By comparing distributions and age sensitivity of the resulting diffusion metrics based on different approaches (diffusion tensor imaging, diffusion kurtosis imaging and white matter tract integrity), we evaluate a general pipeline comprising seven postprocessing blocks: noise correction; Gibbs ringing correction; evaluation of field distortions; susceptibility, eddy‐current and motion‐induced distortion corrections; bias field correction; spatial smoothing and final diffusion metric estimations. Based on this evaluation, we suggest an optimised processing pipeline for diffusion weighted MRI data.
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