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Cent Eur Neurosurg. 2009 Feb;70(1):27-35. doi: 10.1055/s-0028-1087212. Epub 2009 Feb 3.

Fiber tracking with distinct software tools results in a clear diversity in anatomical fiber tract portrayal.

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Department of Neurosurgery, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany.



Fiber tract portrayal, based on diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), is becoming more and more important in functional neuronavigation. No standard exists to guarantee anatomically correct fiber tract depiction for neurosurgical purposes. Therefore, showing the anatomically correct extension of fiber tracts beyond the pure connection of functional areas remains an area of important research and investigation. Standards for fiber tracking software applications are elusive. The purpose of this study was to compare the performance of different fiber tracking software tools (FT-tools). We tested the software performance, comparability and anatomical accuracy of the tracking results of several programs.


A single DTI dataset of a healthy control subject was submitted to four different fiber tracking software applications (two commercial, two freeware), three of them based on Fiber Assignment by Continuous Tracking, one based on the Tensorline Propagation Algorithm. The corticospinal tract (CST) was investigated. The tracking procedure was controlled by the following input variables: single regions of interest (ROIs): brain stem, or internal capsule, or subcortical white matter of the precentral gyrus; background threshold, fractional anisotropy (FA) threshold, maximum fiber angulation and fiber length. Tracking results were compared for 2-D correlated triplanar images (axial, coronal, sagittal) and in 3-D. For all FT-tools, the time used to generate the CST was measured. The inter-rater variability for tracking time and for the tracked CST volumes was recorded for two of the four FT-tools.


Distinct FT-tools performed very differently with respect to the time required to achieve CST portrayal (track generation time varied between 16 and 50 min). None of the software applications was able to display the CST in its full anatomical extent. Especially the lateral precentral areas were not pictured. Surprisingly, the application of the four distinct FT-tools did not lead to comparable tracking results. As very similar or identical tracking algorithms were used, this difference cannot be easily explained. Clearly, neurosurgeons have to be cautious about applying fiber tracking results intraoperatively, especially when dealing with an abnormal or distorted fiber tract anatomy. The authors recommend the use of adjunct strategies such as intraoperative electrophysiology to enhance patient safety and improve anatomical accuracy when using tracking results for surgical procedures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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