Head injury or head motion? Assessment and quantification of motion artifacts in diffusion tensor imaging studies

Hum Brain Mapp. 2012 Jan;33(1):50-62. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21192. Epub 2011 Mar 9.


The relationship between head motion and diffusion values such as fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) is currently not well understood. Simulation studies suggest that head motion may introduce either a positive or negative bias, but this has not been quantified in clinical studies. Moreover, alternative measures for removing bias as result of head motion, such as the removal of problematic gradients, has been suggested but not carefully evaluated. The current study examined the impact of head motion on FA and MD across three common pipelines (tract-based spatial statistics, voxelwise, and region of interest analyses) and determined the impact of removing diffusion weighted images. Our findings from a large cohort of healthy controls indicate that while head motion was associated with a positive bias for both FA and MD, the effect was greater for MD. The positive bias was observed across all three analysis pipelines and was present following established protocols for data processing, suggesting that current techniques (i.e., correction of both image and gradient table) for removing motion bias are likely insufficient. However, the removal of images with gross artifacts did not fundamentally change the relationship between motion and DTI scalar values. In addition, Monte Carlo simulations suggested that the random removal of images increases the bias and reduces the precision of both FA and MD. Finally, we provide an example of how head motion can be quantified across different neuropsychiatric populations, which should be implemented as part of any diffusion tensor imaging quality assurance protocol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anisotropy
  • Artifacts
  • Brain Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Head Movements / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Male
  • Motion