The white matter pathways of the brain can be reconstructed as 3D polylines, called streamlines, through the analysis of diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) data. The whole set of streamlines is called tractogram and represents the structural connectome of the brain. In multiple applications, like group-analysis, segmentation, or atlasing, tractograms of different subjects need to be aligned. Typically, this is done with registration methods, that transform the tractograms in order to increase their similarity. In contrast with transformation-based registration methods, in this work we propose the concept of tractogram correspondence, whose aim is to find which streamline of one tractogram corresponds to which streamline in another tractogram, i.e., a map from one tractogram to another. As a further contribution, we propose to use the relational information of each streamline, i.e., its distances from the other streamlines in its own tractogram, as the building block to define the optimal correspondence. We provide an operational procedure to find the optimal correspondence through a combinatorial optimization problem and we discuss its similarity to the graph matching problem. In this work, we propose to represent tractograms as graphs and we adopt a recent inexact sub-graph matching algorithm to approximate the solution of the tractogram correspondence problem. On tractograms generated from the Human Connectome Project dataset, we report experimental evidence that tractogram correspondence, implemented as graph matching, provides much better alignment than affine registration and comparable if not better results than non-linear registration of volumes.
Keywords: alignment; combinatorial optimization; diffusion MRI; graph matching; tractography.