Identical, but not the same: intra-site and inter-site reproducibility of fractional anisotropy measures on two 3.0T scanners

Neuroimage. 2010 Jul 15;51(4):1384-94. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.03.046. Epub 2010 Mar 23.


Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is being increasingly used to assess white matter integrity and it is therefore paramount to address the test-retest reliability of DTI measures. In this study we assessed inter- and intra-site reproducibility of two nominally identical 3T scanners at different sites in nine healthy controls using a DTI protocol representative of typical current "best practice" including cardiac gating, a multichannel head coil, parallel imaging and optimized diffusion gradient parameters. We calculated coefficients of variation (CV) and intraclass correlation coefficients (ICC) of fractional anisotropy (FA) measures for the whole brain, for three regions of interest (ROI) and for three tracts derived from these ROI by probabilistic tracking. We assessed the impact of affine, nonlinear and template based methods for spatially aligning FA maps on the reproducibility. The intra-site CV for FA ranged from 0.8% to 3.0% with ICC from 0.90 to 0.99, while the inter-site CV ranged from 1.0% to 4.1% with ICC of 0.82 to 0.99. Nonlinear image coregistration improved reproducibility compared to affine coregistration. Normalization to template space reduced the between-subject variation, resulting in lower ICC values and indicating a possibly reduced sensitivity. CV from probabilistic tractography were about 50% higher than for the corresponding seed ROI. Reproducibility maps of the whole scan volume showed a low variation of less than 5% in the major white matter tracts but higher variations of 10-15% in gray matter regions. One of the two scanners showed better intra-site reproducibility, while the intra-site CV for both scanners was significantly better than inter-site CV. However, when using nonlinear coregistration of FA maps, the average inter-site CV was below 2%. There was a consistent inter-site bias, FA values on site 2 were 1.0-1.5% lower than on site 1. Correction for this bias with a global scaling factor reduced the inter-site CV to the range of intra-site CV. Our results are encouraging for multi-centre DTI studies in larger populations, but also illustrate the importance of the image processing pipeline for reproducibility.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anisotropy
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / instrumentation*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Reproducibility of Results