A tracking-based diffusion tensor imaging segmentation method for the detection of diffusion-related changes of the cervical spinal cord with aging

Van Hecke, Wim, Leemans, Alexander, Sijbers, Jan, Vandervliet, Evert, Van Goethem, Johan, Parizel, Paul M.


Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging 27 (5), p. 978-991


Purpose: To compare region of interest (ROI)-based and diffusion tensor tractography (DTT)-based methods for evaluating diffusion properties of the spinal cord as a function of age. Materials and Methods: Commonly, an ROI segmentation is used to delineate the spinal cord. In this work, new segmentation methods are developed based on DTT. In a first, DTT-based, segmentation approach, the diffusion properties are calculated on the tracts. In a second method, the diffusion properties are analyzed in the spinal cord voxels that contain a certain number of tracts. We studied the changes in diffusion properties of the human spinal cord in subjects of different ages. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) measurements of the cervical spinal cord were acquired on 42 healthy volunteers (age range = 19-87 years). The fractional anisotropy (FA), the mean diffusivity (MD), and eigenvalues (λ 1, λ2, and λ3) were compared for the ROI-and DTT-based segmentation methods. Results: Our automatic techniques are shown to be highly reproducible and sensitive for detecting DTI changes. FA decreased (r = -0.38; P < 0.05), whereas MD and eigenvalues increased (r = ± 0.45; P < 0.05) with age. These trends were not statistically significant for the ROI-based segmentation (P > 0.05). Conclusion: DTT is a robust and reproducible technique to segment the voxels of interest in the spinal cord.