BACKGROUND: Deterministic diffusion tractography obtained from high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) requires user-defined quantitative anisotropy (QA) thresholds. Most studies employ a common threshold across all subjects even though there is a strong degree of individual variation within groups. We sought to explore whether it would be beneficial to use individual thresholds in order to accommodate individual variance. To do this, we conducted two independent experiments.
METHOD: First, tractography of the arcuate fasciculus and network connectivity measures were examined in a sample of 14 healthy participants. Second, we assessed the effects of QA threshold on group differences in network connectivity measures between healthy young (n=19) and old (n=14) individuals.
RESULTS: The results of both experiments were significantly influenced by QA threshold. Common thresholds set too high failed to produce sufficient reconstructions in most subjects, thus decreasing the likelihood of detecting meaningful group differences. On the other hand, common thresholds set too low resulted in spurious reconstructions, providing deleterious results.
COMPARISON WITH EXISTING METHODS: Subject specific thresholds acquired using our QA threshold selection method (QATS) appeared to provide the most meaningful networks while ensuring that data from all subjects contributed to the analyses.
CONCLUSIONS: Together, these results support the use of a subject-specific threshold to ensure that data from all subjects are included in the analyses being conducted.