Surface Vision Transformers: Attention-Based Modelling applied to Cortical Analysis

Simon Dahan, Abdulah Fawaz, Logan Z.J. Williams, Chunhui Yang, Timothy S. Coalson, Matthew F. Glasser, A. David Edwards, Daniel Rueckert, Emma C. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The extension of convolutional neural networks (CNNs) to non-Euclidean geometries has led to multiple frameworks for studying manifolds. Many of those methods have shown design limitations resulting in poor modelling of long-range associations, as the generalisation of convolutions to irregular surfaces is non-trivial. Motivated by the success of attention-modelling in computer vision, we translate convolution-free vision transformer approaches to surface data, to introduce a domain-agnostic architecture to study any surface data projected onto a spherical manifold. Here, surface patching is achieved by representing spherical data as a sequence of triangular patches, extracted from a subdivided icosphere. A transformer model encodes the sequence of patches via successive multi-head self-attention layers while preserving the sequence resolution. We validate the performance of the proposed Surface Vision Transformer (SiT) on the task of phenotype regression from cortical surface metrics derived from the Developing Human Connectome Project (dHCP). Experiments show that the SiT generally outperforms surface CNNs, while performing comparably on registered and unregistered data. Analysis of transformer attention maps offers strong potential to characterise subtle cognitive developmental patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)282-303
Number of pages22
JournalProceedings of Machine Learning Research
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes
Event5th International Conference on Medical Imaging with Deep Learning, MIDL 2022 - Zurich, Switzerland
Duration: 6 Jul 20228 Jul 2022


  • Attention-based Modelling
  • Cortical Analysis
  • Deep Learning
  • Neuroimaging
  • Vision Transformer


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