Establishing the functional relevancy of white matter connections in the visual system and beyond

Brain Struct Funct. 2022 May;227(4):1347-1356. doi: 10.1007/s00429-021-02423-4. Epub 2021 Nov 30.


For over a century, researchers have examined the functional relevancy of white matter bundles. Consequently, many large-scale bundles spanning several centimeters have been associated in their entirety with specific brain functions, such as language or attention. However, these coarse structural-functional relationships are at odds with modern understanding of the fine-grained functional organization of human cortex, such as the mosaic of category-selective regions in ventral temporal cortex. Here, we review a multimodal approach that combines fMRI to define functional regions of interest within individual's brains with dMRI tractography to identify the white matter bundles of the same individual. Combining these data allows to determine which subsets of streamlines within a white matter bundle connect to specific functional regions in each individual. That is, this approach identifies the functionally defined white matter sub-bundles of the brain. We argue that this approach not only enhances the accuracy of interpreting the functional relevancy of white matter bundles, but also enables segmentation of these large-scale bundles into meaningful functional units, which can then be linked to behavior with enhanced precision. Importantly, this approach has the potential for making new discoveries of the fine-grained functional relevancy of white matter connections in the visual system and the brain more broadly, akin to the flurry of research that has identified functional regions in cortex.

Keywords: Diffusion magnetic resonance imaging; Fascicles; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Precision neuroscience; White matter.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • White Matter* / diagnostic imaging