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This paper presents a validation study on statistical nonsupervised brain tissue classification techniques in magnetic resonance (MR) images. Several image models assuming different hypotheses regarding the intensity distribution model, the spatial model and the number of classes are assessed. The methods are tested on simulated data for which the classification ground truth is known. Different noise and intensity nonuniformities are added to simulate real imaging conditions. No enhancement of the image quality is considered either before or during the classification process. This way, the accuracy of the methods and their robustness against image artifacts are tested. Classification is also performed on real data where a quantitative validation compares the methods' results with an estimated ground truth from manual segmentations by experts. Validity of the various classification methods in the labeling of the image as well as in the tissue volume is estimated with different local and global measures. Results demonstrate that methods relying on both intensity and spatial information are more robust to noise and field inhomogeneities. We also demonstrate that partial volume is not perfectly modeled, even though methods that account for mixture classes outperform methods that only consider pure Gaussian classes. Finally, we show that simulated data results can also be extended to real data.