A comprehensive reliability assessment of quantitative diffusion tensor tractography

Jun Yi Wang, Hervé Abdi, Khamid Bakhadirov, Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, Michael D. Devous

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Diffusion tensor tractography is increasingly used to examine structural connectivity in the brain in various conditions, but its test-retest reliability is understudied. The main purposes of this study were to evaluate 1) the reliability of quantitative measurements of diffusion tensor tractography and 2) the effect on reliability of the number of gradient sampling directions and scan repetition. Images were acquired from ten healthy participants. Ten fiber regions of nine major fiber tracts were reconstructed and quantified using six fiber variables. Intra- and inter-session reliabilities were estimated using intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) and coefficient of variation (CV), and were compared to pinpoint major error sources. Additional pairwise comparisons were made between the reliability of images with 30 directions and NEX 2 (DTI30-2), 30 directions and NEX 1 (DTI30-1), and 15 directions and NEX 2 (DTI15-2) to determine whether increasing gradient directions and scan repetition improved reliability. Of the 60 tractography measurements, 43 showed intersession CV ≤ 10%, ICC ≥ 70, or both for DTI30-2, 40 measurements for DTI30-1, and 37 for DTI15-2. Most of the reliable measurements were associated with the tracts corpus callosum, cingulum, cerebral peduncular fibers, uncinate fasciculus, and arcuate fasciculus. These reliable measurements included factional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity of all 10 fiber regions. Intersession reliability was significantly worse than intra-session reliability for FA, mean length, and tract volume measurements from DTI15-2, indicating that the combination of MRI signal variation and physiological noise/change over time was the major error source for this sequence. Increasing the number of gradient directions from 15 to 30 while controlling the scan time, significantly affected values for all six variables and reduced intersession variability for mean length and tract volume measurements. Additionally, while increasing scan repetition from 1 to 2 had no significant effect on the reliability for DTI with 30 directions, this significantly reduced the upward bias in FA values from all 10 fiber regions and fiber count, mean length, and tract volume measurements from 5 to 7 fiber regions. In conclusion, diffusion tensor tractography provided many measurements with high test-retest reliability across different fiber variables and various fiber tracts even for images with 15 directions (NEX 2). Increasing the number of gradient directions from 15 to 30 with equivalent scan time reduced variability whereas increasing repetition from 1 to 2 for 30-direction DTI improved the accuracy of tractography measurements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1127-1138
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2 2012


  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • Fiber tracts
  • Reliability
  • Tractography
  • Variability
  • White matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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