Thalamo-frontal white matter alterations in chronic schizophrenia: a quantitative diffusion tractography study

Oh JS, Kubicki M, Rosenberger G, Bouix S, Levitt JJ, McCarley RW, Westin CF, Shenton ME

Hum Brain Mapp 2009 Nov;30(11):3812-25

PMID: 19449328


Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and fiber tractography are useful tools for reconstructing white matter tracts (WMT) in the brain. Previous tractography studies have sought to segment reconstructed WMT into anatomical structures using several approaches, but quantification has been limited to extracting mean values of diffusion indices. Delineating WMT in schizophrenia is of particular interest because schizophrenia has been hypothesized to be a disorder of disrupted connectivity, especially between frontal and temporal regions of the brain. In this study, we aim to differentiate diffusion properties of thalamo-frontal pathways in schizophrenia from normal controls. We present a quantitative group comparison method, which combines the strengths of both tractography-based and voxel-based studies. Our algorithm extracts white matter pathways using whole brain tractography. Functionally relevant bundles are selected and parsed from the resulting set of tracts, using an internal capsule (IC) region of interest (ROI) as “source”, and different Brodmann area (BA) ROIs as “targets”. The resulting bundles are then longitudinally parameterized so that diffusion properties can be measured and compared along the WMT. Using this processing pipeline, we were able to find altered diffusion properties in male patients with chronic schizophrenia in terms of fractional anisotropy (FA) decreases and mean diffusivity (MD) increases in precise and functionally relevant locations. These findings suggest that our method can enhance the regional and functional specificity of DTI group studies, thus improving our understanding of brain function.