Reducing variability in along-tract analysis with diffusion profile realignment

St-Jean, S, Chamberland, Maxime, Leemans, Alexander, Viergever, MA


NeuroImage 199 p. 663-679


Diffusion weighted magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) provides a non invasive virtual reconstruction of the brain's white matter structures through tractography. Analyzing dMRI measures along the trajectory of white matter bundles can provide a more specific investigation than considering a region of interest or tract-averaged measurements. However, performing group analyses with this along-tract strategy requires correspondence between points of tract pathways across subjects. This is usually achieved by creating a new common space where the representative streamlines from every subject are resampled to the same number of points. If the underlying anatomy of some subjects was altered due to, e.g., disease or developmental changes, such information might be lost by resampling to a fixed number of points. In this work, we propose to address the issue of possible misalignment, which might be present even after resampling, by realigning the representative streamline of each subject in this 1D space with a new method, coined diffusion profile realignment (DPR). Experiments on synthetic datasets show that DPR reduces the coefficient of variation for the mean diffusivity, fractional anisotropy and apparent fiber density when compared to the unaligned case. Using 100 in vivo datasets from the human connectome project, we simulated changes in mean diffusivity, fractional anisotropy and apparent fiber density. Independent Student's t-tests between these altered subjects and the original subjects indicate that regional changes are identified after realignment with the DPR algorithm, while preserving differences previously detected in the unaligned case. This new correction strategy contributes to revealing effects of interest which might be hidden by misalignment and has the potential to improve the specificity in longitudinal population studies beyond the traditional region of interest based analysis and along-tract analysis workflows.