Spatial correspondence of spinal cord white matter tracts using diffusion tensor imaging, fibre tractography, and atlas-based segmentation

Neuroradiology. 2021 Mar;63(3):373-380. doi: 10.1007/s00234-021-02635-9. Epub 2021 Jan 14.


Purpose: Neuroimaging provides great utility in complex spinal surgeries, particularly when anatomical geometry is distorted by pathology (tumour, degeneration, etc.). Spinal cord MRI diffusion tractography can be used to generate streamlines; however, it is unclear how well they correspond with white matter tract locations along the cord microstructure. The goal of this work was to evaluate the spatial correspondence of DTI tractography with anatomical MRI in healthy anatomy (where anatomical locations can be well defined in T1-weighted images).

Methods: Ten healthy volunteers were scanned on a 3T system. T1-weighted (1 × 1 × 1 mm) and diffusion-weighted images (EPI readout, 2 × 2 × 2 mm, 30 gradient directions) were acquired and subsequently registered (Spinal Cord Toolbox (SCT)). Atlas-based (SCT) anatomic label maps of the left and right lateral corticospinal tracts were identified for each vertebral region (C2-C6) from T1 images. Tractography streamlines were generated with a customized approach, enabling seeding of specific spinal tract regions corresponding to individual vertebral levels. Spatial correspondence of generated fibre streamlines with anatomic tract segmentations was compared in unseeded regions of interest (ROIs).

Results: Spatial correspondence of the lateral corticospinal tract streamlines was good over a single vertebral ROI (Dice's similarity coefficient (DSC) = 0.75 ± 0.08, Hausdorff distance = 1.08 ± 0.17 mm). Over larger ROI, fair agreement between tractography and anatomical labels was achieved (two levels: DSC = 0.67 ± 0.13, three levels: DSC = 0.52 ± 0.19).

Conclusion: DTI tractography produced good spatial correspondence with anatomic white matter tracts, superior to the agreement between multiple manual tract segmentations (DSC ~ 0.5). This supports further development of spinal cord tractography for computer-assisted neurosurgery.

Keywords: Deformable registration; Diffusion tensor imaging; Segmentation; Spinal cord; Tractography.

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pyramidal Tracts / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Cord / diagnostic imaging
  • White Matter* / diagnostic imaging