Microstructural correlations of white matter tracts in the human brain

Neuroimage. 2010 Jun;51(2):531-41. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.02.072. Epub 2010 Mar 4.


The purpose of this study is to investigate whether specific patterns of correlation exist in diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) parameters across different white matter tracts in the normal human brain, and whether the relative strengths of these putative microstructural correlations might reflect phylogenetic and functional similarities between tracts. We performed quantitative DTI fiber tracking on 44 healthy adult volunteers to obtain tract-based measures of mean diffusivity (MD), fractional anisotropy (FA), axial diffusivity (AD), and radial diffusivity (RD) from four homologous pairs of neocortical association pathways (arcuate fasciculi, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculi, inferior longitudinal fasciculi, and uncinate fasciculi bilaterally), a homologous pair of limbic association pathways (left and right dorsal cingulum bundles), and a homologous pair of cortical-subcortical projection pathways (left and right corticospinal tracts). From the resulting inter-tract correlation matrices, we show that there are statistically significant correlations of DTI parameters between tracts, and that there are statistically significant variations among these inter-tract correlations. Furthermore, we observe that many, but by no means all, of the strongest correlations are between homologous tracts in the left and right hemispheres. Even among homologous pairs of tracts, there are wide variations in the degree of coupling. Finally, we generate a data-driven hierarchical clustering of the fiber pathways based on pairwise FA correlations to demonstrate that the neocortical association pathways tend to group separately from the limbic pathways at trend-level statistical significance, and that the projection pathways of the left and right corticospinal tracts comprise the most distant outgroup with high confidence (p<0.01). Hence, specific patterns of microstructural correlation exist between tracts and may reflect phylogenetic and functional similarities between tracts. The study of these microstructural relationships between white matter pathways might aid research on the genetic basis and on the behavioral effects of axonal connectivity, as well as provide a revealing new perspective with which to investigate neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / ultrastructure*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging*
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Pathways / ultrastructure*