The depiction of cranial nerves (CNs) using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is of great interest in skull base tumor surgery and DTI used with deterministic tracking methods has been reported previously. However, there are still no good methods usable for the elimination of noise from the resulting depictions. The authors have hypothesized that probabilistic tracking could lead to more accurate results, because it more efficiently extracts information from the underlying data. Moreover, the authors have adapted a previously described technique for noise elimination using gradual threshold increases to probabilistic tracking. To evaluate the utility of this new approach, a comparison is provided with this work between the gradual threshold increase method in probabilistic and deterministic tracking of CNs.
Both tracking methods were used to depict CNs II, III, V, and the VII+VIII bundle. Depiction of 240 CNs was attempted with each of the above methods in 30 healthy subjects, which were obtained from 2 public databases: the Kirby repository (KR) and Human Connectome Project (HCP). Elimination of erroneous fibers was attempted by gradually increasing the respective thresholds (fractional anisotropy [FA] and probabilistic index of connectivity [PICo]). The results were compared with predefined ground truth images based on corresponding anatomical scans. Two label overlap measures (false-positive error and Dice similarity coefficient) were used to evaluate the success of both methods in depicting the CN. Moreover, the differences between these parameters obtained from the KR and HCP (with higher angular resolution) databases were evaluated. Additionally, visualization of 10 CNs in 5 clinical cases was attempted with both methods and evaluated by comparing the depictions with intraoperative findings.
Maximum Dice similarity coefficients were significantly higher with probabilistic tracking (p < 0.001; Wilcoxon signed-rank test). The false-positive error of the last obtained depiction was also significantly lower in probabilistic than in deterministic tracking (p < 0.001). The HCP data yielded significantly better results in terms of the Dice coefficient in probabilistic tracking (p < 0.001, Mann-Whitney U-test) and in deterministic tracking (p = 0.02). The false-positive errors were smaller in HCP data in deterministic tracking (p < 0.001) and showed a strong trend toward significance in probabilistic tracking (p = 0.06). In the clinical cases, the probabilistic method visualized 7 of 10 attempted CNs accurately, compared with 3 correct depictions with deterministic tracking.
High angular resolution DTI scans are preferable for the DTI-based depiction of the cranial nerves. Probabilistic tracking with a gradual PICo threshold increase is more effective for this task than the previously described deterministic tracking with a gradual FA threshold increase and might represent a method that is useful for depicting cranial nerves with DTI since it eliminates the erroneous fibers without manual intervention.