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 due to 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 to existing models across ten recruitment centers and in three independent validation samples (N=4,004). In two examples, we demonstrate that it prevents spurious associations and increases power to detect accelerated brain-aging. We make the pre-trained model publicly available.
Age prediction based on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) data of the brain is a biomarker to quantify the progress of brain diseases and aging. Current approaches rely on preparing the data with multiple preprocessing steps, such as registering voxels to a standardized brain atlas, which yields a significant computational overhead, hampers widespread usage and results in the predicted brain-age to be sensitive to preprocessing parameters. Here we describe a 3D Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) based on the ResNet architecture being trained on raw, non-registered T$_ 1$-weighted MRI data of N=10,691 samples from the German National Cohort and additionally applied and validated in N=2,173 samples from three independent studies using transfer learning. For comparison, state-of-the-art models using preprocessed neuroimaging data are trained and validated on the same samples. The 3D CNN using raw neuroimaging data predicts age with a mean average deviation of 2.84 years, outperforming the state-of-the-art brain-age models using preprocessed data. Since our approach is invariant to preprocessing software and parameter choices, it enables faster, more robust and more accurate brain-age modeling.