Tracking the Corticospinal Tract in Patients With High-Grade Glioma: Clinical Evaluation of Multi-Level Fiber Tracking and Comparison to Conventional Deterministic Approaches

Andrey Zhylka, Nico Sollmann, Florian Kofler, Ahmed Radwan, Alberto De Luca, Jens Gempt, Benedikt Wiestler, Bjoern Menze, Sandro M. Krieg, Claus Zimmer, Jan S. Kirschke, Stefan Sunaert, Alexander Leemans, Josien P.W. Pluim

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While the diagnosis of high-grade glioma (HGG) is still associated with a considerably poor prognosis, neurosurgical tumor resection provides an opportunity for prolonged survival and improved quality of life for affected patients. However, successful tumor resection is dependent on a proper surgical planning to avoid surgery-induced functional deficits whilst achieving a maximum extent of resection (EOR). With diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) providing insight into individual white matter neuroanatomy, the challenge remains to disentangle that information as correctly and as completely as possible. In particular, due to the lack of sensitivity and accuracy, the clinical value of widely used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI)-based tractography is increasingly questioned. We evaluated whether the recently developed multi-level fiber tracking (MLFT) technique can improve tractography of the corticospinal tract (CST) in patients with motor-eloquent HGGs. Forty patients with therapy-naïve HGGs (mean age: 62.6 ± 13.4 years, 57.5% males) and preoperative diffusion MRI [repetition time (TR)/echo time (TE): 5000/78 ms, voxel size: 2x2x2 mm3, one volume at b=0 s/mm2, 32 volumes at b=1000 s/mm2] underwent reconstruction of the CST of the tumor-affected and unaffected hemispheres using MLFT in addition to deterministic DTI-based and deterministic constrained spherical deconvolution (CSD)-based fiber tractography. The brain stem was used as a seeding region, with a motor cortex mask serving as a target region for MLFT and a region of interest (ROI) for the other two algorithms. Application of the MLFT method substantially improved bundle reconstruction, leading to CST bundles with higher radial extent compared to the two other algorithms (delineation of CST fanning with a wider range; median radial extent for tumor-affected vs. unaffected hemisphere – DTI: 19.46° vs. 18.99°, p=0.8931; CSD: 30.54° vs. 27.63°, p=0.0546; MLFT: 81.17° vs. 74.59°, p=0.0134). In addition, reconstructions by MLFT and CSD-based tractography nearly completely included respective bundles derived from DTI-based tractography, which was however favorable for MLFT compared to CSD-based tractography (median coverage of the DTI-based CST for affected vs. unaffected hemispheres – CSD: 68.16% vs. 77.59%, p=0.0075; MLFT: 93.09% vs. 95.49%; p=0.0046). Thus, a more complete picture of the CST in patients with motor-eloquent HGGs might be achieved based on routinely acquired diffusion MRI data using MLFT.

Original languageEnglish
Article number761169
JournalFrontiers in Oncology
StatePublished - 14 Dec 2021


  • brain tumor
  • corticospinal tract (CST)
  • diffusion MRI
  • fiber tractography
  • neurosurgery planning


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