Choice of diffusion tensor estimation approach affects fiber tractography of the fornix in preterm brain

Plaisier, A, Pieterman, K, Lequin, M H, Govaert, P, Heemskerk, A M, Reiss, I K M, Krestin, G P, Leemans, A, Dudink, J


American Journal of Neuroradiology 35 (6), p. 1219-1225


BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Neonatal DTI enables quantitative assessment of microstructural brain properties. Although its use is increasing, it is not widely known that vast differences in tractography results can occur, depending on the diffusion tensor estimation methodology used. Current clinical work appears to be insufficiently focused on data quality and processing of neonatal DTI. To raise awareness about this important processing step, we investigated tractography reconstructions of the fornix with the use of several estimation techniques. We hypothesized that the method of tensor estimation significantly affects DTI tractography results.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Twenty-eight DTI scans of infants born <29 weeks of gestation, acquired at 30-week postmenstrual age and without intracranial injury observed, were prospectively collected. Four diffusion tensor estimation methods were applied: 1) linear least squares; 2) weighted linear least squares; 3) nonlinear least squares, and 4) robust estimation of tensors by outlier rejection. Quality of DTI data and tractography results were evaluated for each method.

RESULTS: With nonlinear least squares and robust estimation of tensors by outlier rejection, significantly lower mean fractional anisotropy values were obtained than with linear least squares and weighted linear least squares. Visualized quality of tract reconstruction was significantly higher by use of robust estimation of tensors by outlier rejection and correlated with quality of DTI data.

CONCLUSIONS: Quality assessment and choice of processing methodology have considerable impact on neonatal DTI analysis. Dedicated acquisition, quality assessment, and advanced processing of neonatal DTI data must be ensured before performing clinical analyses, such as associating microstructural brain properties with patient outcome.