Toward a Better Estimation of Functional Brain Network for Mild Cognitive Impairment Identification: A Transfer Learning View

Weikai Li, Limei Zhang, Lishan Qiao, Dinggang Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage of brain cognitive decline, associated with increasing risk of developing Alzheimer's disease (AD). It is believed that early treatment of MCI could slow down the progression of AD, and functional brain network (FBN) could provide potential imaging biomarkers for MCI diagnosis and response to treatment. However, there are still some challenges to estimate a 'good' FBN, particularly due to the poor quality and limited quantity of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from the target domain (i.e., MCI study). Inspired by the idea of transfer learning, we attempt to transfer information in high-quality data from source domain (e.g., human connectome project in this paper) into the target domain towards a better FBN estimation, and propose a novel method, namely NERTL (Network Estimation via Regularized Transfer Learning). Specifically, we first construct a high-quality network 'template' based on the source data, and then use the template to guide or constrain the target of FBN estimation by a weighted l1-norm regularizer. Finally, we conduct experiments to identify subjects with MCI from normal controls (NCs) based on the estimated FBNs. Despite its simplicity, our proposed method is more effective than the baseline methods in modeling discriminative FBNs, as demonstrated by the superior MCI classification accuracy of 82.4% and the area under curve (AUC) of 0.910.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8792958
Pages (from-to)1160-1168
Number of pages9
JournalIEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Apr 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Manuscript received December 7, 2018; revised March 22, 2019 and June 30, 2019; accepted August 6, 2019. Date of publication August 9, 2019; date of current version April 6, 2020. This work was supported in part by the Natural Science Foundation of Shandong Province ZR2018MF020, in part by the Natural Science Foundation Project of CQCSTC 2018jcyjA2756, in part by Shanghai Municipal Planning Commission of Science and Research Fund 201740010, and in part by NIH under Grants EB022880, AG049371, and AG042599. (Corresponding author: Lishan Qiao.) W. Li is with the College of Computer Science Technology, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Nanjing 211106, China, and also with the School of Mathematics Science, Liaocheng University, Liaocheng 252000, China (e-mail:,

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 IEEE.


  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
  • functional brain network (FBN)
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
  • sparse representation
  • transfer learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Health Information Management


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