Tractography: where do we go from here?

Brain Connect. 2011;1(3):169-83. doi: 10.1089/brain.2011.0033. Epub 2011 Aug 30.


Diffusion tractography offers enormous potential for the study of human brain anatomy. However, as a method to study brain connectivity, tractography suffers from limitations, as it is indirect, inaccurate, and difficult to quantify. Despite these limitations, appropriate use of tractography can be a powerful means to address certain questions. In addition, while some of tractography's limitations are fundamental, others could be alleviated by methodological and technological advances. This article provides an overview of diffusion magnetic resonance tractography methods with a focus on how future advances might address challenges in measuring brain connectivity. Parts of this review are somewhat provocative, in the hope that they may trigger discussions possibly lacking in a field where the apparent simplicity of the methods (compared to their functional magnetic resonance imaging counterparts) can hide some fundamental issues that ultimately hinder the interpretation of findings, and cast doubt as to what tractography can really teach us about human brain anatomy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Brain Mapping / trends*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / trends*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / metabolism
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / metabolism
  • Neural Pathways / physiology