Registration-free analysis of diffusion MRI tractography data across subjects through the human lifespan


Viviana Siless, Juliet Y Davidow, Jared Nielsen, Qiuyun Fan, Trey Hedden, Marisa Hollinshead, Elizabeth Beam, Constanza M Vidal Bustamante, Megan C Garrad, Rosario Santillana, Emily E Smith, Aya Hamadeh, Jenna Snyder, Michelle K Drews, Koene RA Van Dijk, Margaret Sheridan, Leah H Somerville, and Anastasia Yendiki. 2020. “Registration-free analysis of diffusion MRI tractography data across subjects through the human lifespan.” Neuroimage, 214, Pp. 116703.


Diffusion MRI tractography produces massive sets of streamlines that need to be clustered into anatomically meaningful white-matter bundles. Conventional clustering techniques group streamlines based on their proximity in Euclidean space. We have developed AnatomiCuts, an unsupervised method for clustering tractography streamlines based on their neighboring anatomical structures, rather than their coordinates in Euclidean space. In this work, we show that the anatomical similarity metric used in AnatomiCuts can be extended to find corresponding clusters across subjects and across hemispheres, without inter-subject or inter-hemispheric registration. Our proposed approach enables group-wise tract cluster analysis, as well as studies of hemispheric asymmetry. We evaluate our approach on data from the pilot MGH-Harvard-USC Lifespan Human Connectome project, showing improved correspondence in tract clusters across 184 subjects aged 8-90. Our method shows up to 38% improvement in the overlap of corresponding clusters when comparing subjects with large age differences. The techniques presented here do not require registration to a template and can thus be applied to populations with large inter-subject variability, e.g., due to brain development, aging, or neurological disorders.