13 October 2016
Introduction: Tractography analysis in group-based studies across large populations has been difficult to implement. We propose Selective Automated Group Integrated Tractography (SAGIT), an automated group tractography software platform that incorporates multiple diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) practices which will allow great accessibility to group-wise dMRI. We use a merged tractography approach that permits evaluation of tractography datasets at the group level. We also introduce an image normalized overlap score (NOS) that measures the quality of the group tractography results. We deploy SAGIT to evaluate deterministic and probabilistic constrained spherical deconvolution (CST det , CST prob ) tractography, eXtended Streamline Tractography (XST), and diffusion tensor tractography (DTT) in their ability to delineate different neuroanatomy, as well as validating NOS across these different brain regions.
Materials and methods: Magnetic resonance sequences were acquired from 42 healthy adults. Anatomical and group registrations were performed using Automated Normalization Tools. Cortical segmentation was performed using FreeSurfer. Four tractography algorithms were used to delineate six sets of neuroanatomy: fornix, facial/vestibular-cochlear cranial nerve complex, vagus nerve, rubral–cerebellar decussation, optic radiation, and auditory radiation. The tracts were generated both with and without region of interest filters. The generated visual reports were then evaluated by five neuroscientists.
Results: At a group level, merged tractography demonstrated that different methods have different fiber distribution characteristics. CST prob is prone to false-positives, and thereby suitable in anatomy with strong priors. CST det and XST are more conservative, but have greater difficulty resolving hemispherical decussation and distant crossing projections. DTT consistently shows the worst reproducibility across the anatomies. Linear regression of rater scores against NOS shows significant ( p < 0.05) correlation of the two sets of scores in filtered tractography. However, correlations are not significant ( p > 0.05) for unfiltered tractography.
Conclusion: The tractography results demonstrated reliable and consistent performance of SAGIT across multiple subjects and techniques. Through SAGIT, we quantifiably demonstrated that different algorithms showed different strengths and weaknesses at a group level. While no single algorithm seems to be suitable for all anatomical tasks, it is useful to consider the use of a mix of algorithms for different anatomical segments. SAGIT appears to be a promising group-wise tractography analysis approach for this purpose.