We investigated hemispheric differences in the human brain gray matter volume.

The paper is published in Brain Structure and Function.

Is it left or is it right? A classification approach for investigating hemispheric differences in low and high dimensionality

Abstract Hemispheric asymmetries, i.e., differences between the two halves of the brain, have extensively been studied with respect to both structure and function. Commonly employed pairwise comparisons between left and right are suitable for finding differences between the hemispheres, but they come with several caveats when assessing multiple asymmetries. What is more, they are not designed for identifying the characterizing features of each hemisphere. Here, we present a novel data-driven framework—based on machine learning-based classification—for identifying the characterizing features that underlie hemispheric differences. Using voxel-based morphometry data from two different samples (n = 226, n = 216), we separated the hemispheres along the midline and used two different pipelines: First, for investigating global differences, we embedded the hemispheres into a two-dimensional space and applied a classifier to assess if the hemispheres are distinguishable in their low-dimensional representation. Second, to investigate which voxels show systematic hemispheric differences, we employed two classification approaches promoting feature selection in high dimensions. The two hemispheres were accurately classifiable in both their low-dimensional (accuracies: dataset 1 = 0.838; dataset 2 = 0.850) and high-dimensional (accuracies: dataset 1 = 0.966; dataset 2 = 0.959) representations. In low dimensions, classification of the right hemisphere showed higher precision (dataset 1 = 0.862; dataset 2 = 0.894) compared to the left hemisphere (dataset 1 = 0.818; dataset 2 = 0.816). A feature selection algorithm in the high-dimensional analysis identified voxels that most contribute to accurate classification. In addition, the map of contributing voxels showed a better overlap with moderate to highly lateralized voxels, whereas conventional t test with threshold-free cluster enhancement best resembled the LQ map at lower thresholds. Both the low- and high-dimensional classifiers were capable of identifying the hemispheres in subsamples of the datasets, such as males, females, right-handed, or non-right-handed participants. Our study indicates that hemisphere classification is capable of identifying the hemisphere in their low- and high-dimensional representation as well as delineating brain asymmetries. The concept of hemisphere classifiability thus allows a change in perspective, from asking what differs between the hemispheres towards focusing on the features needed to identify the left and right hemispheres. Taking this perspective on hemispheric differences may contribute to our understanding of what makes each hemisphere special.