Mapping connectomes with diffusion MRI: deterministic or probabilistic tractography?

Magn Reson Med. 2019 Feb;81(2):1368-1384. doi: 10.1002/mrm.27471. Epub 2018 Oct 10.


Purpose: Human connectomics necessitates high-throughput, whole-brain reconstruction of multiple white matter fiber bundles. Scaling up tractography to meet these high-throughput demands yields new fiber tracking challenges, such as minimizing spurious connections and controlling for gyral biases. The aim of this study is to determine which of the two broadest classes of tractography algorithms-deterministic or probabilistic-is most suited to mapping connectomes.

Methods: This study develops numerical connectome phantoms that feature realistic network topologies and that are matched to the fiber complexity of in vivo diffusion MRI (dMRI) data. The phantoms are utilized to evaluate the performance of tensor-based and multi-fiber implementations of deterministic and probabilistic tractography.

Results: For connectome phantoms that are representative of the fiber complexity of in vivo dMRI, multi-fiber deterministic tractography yields the most accurate connectome reconstructions (F-measure = 0.35). Probabilistic algorithms are hampered by an abundance of false-positive connections, leading to lower specificity (F = 0.19). While omitting connections with the fewest number of streamlines (thresholding) improves the performance of probabilistic algorithms (F = 0.38), multi-fiber deterministic tractography remains optimal when it benefits from thresholding (F = 0.42).

Conclusions: Multi-fiber deterministic tractography is well suited to connectome mapping, while connectome thresholding is essential when using probabilistic algorithms.

Keywords: connectome; diffusion MRI; ground truth; network; phantom; tractography.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Computer Simulation
  • Connectome*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Phantoms, Imaging
  • Probability
  • ROC Curve
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging*