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Neurosurgery. 2010 Apr;66(4):788-95; discussion 795-6. doi: 10.1227/01.NEU.0000367613.09324.DA.

In vivo visualization of cranial nerve pathways in humans using diffusion-based tractography.

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Division of Neurosurgery, University of Toronto and Toronto Western Hospital, Toronto, Canada.

Erratum in

  • Neurosurgery. 2011 Jun;68(6):E1780.



Diffusion-based tractography has emerged as a powerful technique for 3-dimensional tract reconstruction and imaging of white matter fibers; however, tractography of the cranial nerves has not been well studied. In particular, the feasibility of tractography of the individual cranial nerves has not been previously assessed.


3-Tesla magnetic resonance imaging scans, including anatomic magnetic resonance images and diffusion tensor images, were used for this study. Tractography of the cranial nerves was performed using 3D Slicer software. The reconstructed 3-dimensional tracts were overlaid onto anatomic images for determination of location and course of intracranial fibers.


Detailed tractography of the cranial nerves was obtained, although not all cranial nerves were imaged with similar anatomic fidelity. Some tracts were imaged in great detail (cranial nerves II, III, and V). Tractography of the optic apparatus allowed tracing from the optic nerve to the occipital lobe, including Meyer's loop. Trigeminal tractography allowed visualization of the gasserian ganglion as well as postganglionic fibers. Tractography of cranial nerve III shows the course of the fibers through the midbrain. Lower cranial nerves (cranial nerves IX, XI, and XII) could not be imaged well.


Tractography of the cranial nerves is feasible, although technical improvements are necessary to improve the tract reconstruction of the lower cranial nerves. Detailed assessment of anatomy and the ability of overlaying the tracts onto anatomic magnetic resonance imaging scans is essential, particularly in the posterior fossa, to ensure that the tracts have been reconstructed with anatomic fidelity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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