BACKGROUND: Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) infers the trajectory and location of large white matter tracts by measuring the anisotropic diffusion of water. DTI data may then be analyzed and presented as tractography for visualization of the tracts in 3 dimensions. Despite the important information contained in tractography images, usefulness for neurosurgical planning has been limited by the inability to define which are critical structures within the mass of demonstrated fibers and to clarify their relationship to the tumor.
OBJECTIVE: To develop a method to allow the interactive querying of tractography data sets for surgical planning and to provide a working software package for the research community.
METHODS: The tool was implemented within an open source software project. Echo-planar DTI at 3 T was performed on 5 patients, followed by tensor calculation. Software was developed that allowed the placement of a dynamic seed point for local selection of fibers and for fiber display around a segmented structure, both with tunable parameters. A neurosurgeon was trained in the use of software in < 1 hour and used it to review cases.
RESULTS: Tracts near tumor and critical structures were interactively visualized in 3 dimensions to determine spatial relationships to lesion. Tracts were selected using 3 methods: anatomical and functional magnetic resonance imaging-defined regions of interest, distance from the segmented tumor volume, and dynamic seed-point spheres.
CONCLUSION: Interactive tractography successfully enabled inspection of white matter structures that were in proximity to lesions, critical structures, and functional cortical areas, allowing the surgeon to explore the relationships between them.