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Comparison of Anatomical Pathway Models with Tractography Estimates of the Pallidothalamic, Cerebellothalamic, and Corticospinal Tracts

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Introduction: Models of structural connectivity in the human brain are typically simulated using tractographic approaches. However, the nonlinear fitting of anatomical pathway atlases to de novo subject brains represents a simpler alternative that is hypothesized to provide more anatomically realistic results. Therefore, the goal of this study was to perform a side-by-side comparison of the streamline estimates generated by either pathway atlas fits or tractographic reconstructions in the same subjects. Methods: Our analyses focused on reconstruction of the corticospinal tract (CST), cerebellothalamic (CBT), and pallidothalamic (PT) pathways using example datasets from the Human Connectome Project (HCP). We used MRtrix3 to explore whole brain, as well as manual seed-to-target, tractography approaches. In parallel, we performed nonlinear fits of an axonal pathway atlas to each HCP dataset using Advanced Normalization Tools (ANTs). Results: The different methods produced notably different estimates for each pathway in each subject. The fitted atlas pathways were highly stereotyped and exhibited low variability in their streamline trajectories. Manual tractography resulted in pathway estimates that generally corresponded with the fitted atlas pathways, but with a higher degree of variability in the individual streamlines. Pathway reconstructions derived from whole-brain tractography exhibited the highest degree of variability and struggled to create anatomically realistic representations for either the CBT or PT pathways. Conclusion: The speed, simplicity, reproducibility, and realism of anatomical pathway model fits makes them an appealing option for some forms of structural connectivity modeling in the human brain. Impact statement Axonal pathway modeling is an important component of deep brain stimulation (DBS) research studies that seek to identify the brain connections that are directly activated by stimulation. The corticospinal tract, cerebellothalamic (CBT), and pallidothalamic (PT) pathways are specifically relevant to the study of subthalamic DBS for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. Our results suggest that anatomical pathway model fits of the CBT and PT pathways to de novo subject brains represent a more anatomically realistic option than tractographic approaches when studying subthalamic DBS.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain Connectivity
Pages (from-to)237-246
Publication statusPublished - May 2023

    Research areas

  • ansa lenticularis, dentatorubrothalamic tract, internal capsule, lenticular fasciculus, pyramidal tract

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