Magnetic resonance imaging diffusion tensor tractography: Evaluation of anatomic accuracy of different fiber tracking software packages

Guenther C. Feigl, Wolfgang Hiergeist, Claudia Fellner, Karl Michael M. Schebesch, Christian Doenitz, Thomas Finkenzeller, Alexander Brawanski, Juergen Schlaier

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Background: Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI)-based tractography has become an integral part of preoperative diagnostic imaging in many neurosurgical centers, and other nonsurgical specialties depend increasingly on DTI tractography as a diagnostic tool. The aim of this study was to analyze the anatomic accuracy of visualized white matter fiber pathways using different, readily available DTI tractography software programs. Methods: Magnetic resonance imaging scans of the head of 20 healthy volunteers were acquired using a Siemens Symphony TIM 1.5T scanner and a 12-channel head array coil. The standard settings of the scans in this study were 12 diffusion directions and 5-mm slices. The fornices were chosen as an anatomic structure for the comparative fiber tracking. Identical data sets were loaded into nine different fiber tracking packages that used different algorithms. The nine software packages and algorithms used were NeuroQLab (modified tensor deflection [TEND] algorithm), Sörensen DTI task card (modified streamline tracking technique algorithm), Siemens DTI module (modified fourth-order Runge-Kutta algorithm), six different software packages from Trackvis (interpolated streamline algorithm, modified FACT algorithm, second-order Runge-Kutta algorithm, Q-ball [FACT algorithm], tensorline algorithm, Q-ball [second-order Runge-Kutta algorithm]), DTI Query (modified streamline tracking technique algorithm), Medinria (modified TEND algorithm), Brainvoyager (modified TEND algorithm), DTI Studio modified FACT algorithm, and the BrainLab DTI module based on the modified Runge-Kutta algorithm. Three examiners (a neuroradiologist, a magnetic resonance imaging physicist, and a neurosurgeon) served as examiners. They were double-blinded with respect to the test subject and the fiber tracking software used in the presented images. Each examiner evaluated 301 images. The examiners were instructed to evaluate screenshots from the different programs based on two main criteria: (i) anatomic accuracy of the course of the displayed fibers and (ii) number of fibers displayed outside the anatomic boundaries. Results: The mean overall grade for anatomic accuracy was 2.2 (range, 1.1-3.6) with a standard deviation (SD) of 0.9. The mean overall grade for incorrectly displayed fibers was 2.5 (range, 1.6-3.5) with a SD of 0.6. The mean grade of the overall program ranking was 2.3 with a SD of 0.6. The overall mean grade of the program ranked number one (NeuroQLab) was 1.7 (range, 1.5-2.8). The mean overall grade of the program ranked last (BrainLab iPlan Cranial 2.6 DTI Module) was 3.3 (range, 1.7-4). The difference between the mean grades of these two programs was statistically highly significant (P < 0.0001). There was no statistically significant difference between the programs ranked 1-3: NeuroQLab, Sörensen DTI Task Card, and Siemens DTI module. Conclusions: The results of this study show that there is a statistically significant difference in the anatomic accuracy of the tested DTI fiber tracking programs. Although incorrectly displayed fibers could lead to wrong conclusions in the neurosciences field, which relies heavily on this noninvasive imaging technique, incorrectly displayed fibers in neurosurgery could lead to surgical decisions potentially harmful for the patient if used without intraoperative cortical stimulation. DTI fiber tracking presents a valuable noninvasive preoperative imaging tool, which requires further validation after important standardization of the acquisition and processing techniques currently available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-150
Number of pages7
JournalWorld neurosurgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • Anatomic accuracy
  • Brain mapping
  • DTI
  • Navigation
  • Surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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