Exploration of the Brain's White Matter Pathways

with Dynamic Queries


David Akers

Stanford University

Anthony Sherbondy

Stanford University

Rachel Mackenzie

Stanford University

Robert Dougherty

Stanford University

Brian Wandell

Stanford University


  IEEE Visualization 2004 (This paper has been extended in our IEEE TVCG 2005 article.)



PDF (6 MB)


Conference Presentation

PPT (17 MB)


Video (interface demonstration)

Quicktime MOV (232 MB)



Web site




Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is a magnetic resonance imaging method that can be used to measure local information about the structure of white matter within the human brain. Combining DTI data with the computational methods of MR tractography, neuroscientists can estimate the locations and sizes of nerve bundles (white matter pathways) that course through the human brain. Neuroscientists have used visualization techniques to better understand tractography data, but they often struggle with the abundance and complexity of the pathways. In this paper, we describe a novel set of interaction techniques that make it easier to explore and interpret such pathways. Specifically, our application allows neuroscientists to place and interactively manipulate box-shaped regions (or volumes of interest) to selectively display pathways that pass through specc anatomical areas. A simple and exible query language allows for arbitrary combinations of these queries using Boolean logic operators. Queries can be further restricted by numerical path properties such as length, mean fractional anisotropy, and mean curvature. By precomputing the pathways and their statistical properties, we obtain the speed necessary for interactive question-andanswer sessions with brain researchers. We survey some questions that researchers have been asking about tractography data and show how our system can be used to answer these questions efficiently.



 corona radiata

Figure 1: The corona radiata. Our system uses dynamic queries to find structure in neural pathways suggested by MR tractography.


 Sequence of image queries

Figure 3: Sequence of dynamic queries identifying the spatial organization of fiber pathways. a) All 13,000 pathways computed using the STT algorithm. Patterns are difficult to discern because of all the visual clutter. b) Using a length filter, we show only the pathways that are greater than 40mm in length (30 percent of the total number of pathways). c) By placing VOI 1 in the scene, we show only the pathways that pass through the internal capsule (bottom). d) By placing VOIs 2 and 3, we obtain a picture showing connections between 1 and either 2 or 3.

David Akers | Last updated 17 Oct 2004