Trade-off between angular and spatial resolutions in in vivo fiber tractography

Tractography is becoming an increasingly popular method to reconstruct white matter connections in vivo. The diffusion MRI data that tractography is based on requires a high angular resolution to resolve crossing fibers whereas high spatial resolution is required to distinguish kissing from crossing fibers. However, scan time increases with increasing spatial and angular resolutions, which can become infeasible in clinical settings. Here we investigated the trade-off between spatial and angular resolutions to determine which of these factors is most worth investing scan time in. We created a unique diffusion MRI dataset with 1.0 mm isotropic resolution and a high angular resolution (100 directions) using an advanced 3D diffusion-weighted multi-slab EPI acquisition. This dataset was reconstructed to create subsets of lower angular (75, 50, and 25 directions) and lower spatial (1.5, 2.0, and 2.5 mm) resolution. Using all subsets, we investigated the effects of angular and spatial resolutions in three fiber bundles—the corticospinal tract, arcuate fasciculus and corpus callosum—by analyzing the volumetric bundle overlap and anatomical correspondence between tracts. Our results indicate that the subsets of 25 and 50 directions provided inferior tract reconstructions compared with the datasets with 75 and 100 directions. Datasets with spatial resolutions of 1.0, 1.5, and 2.0 mm were comparable, while the lowest resolution (2.5 mm) datasets had discernible inferior quality. In conclusion, we found that angular resolution appeared to be more influential than spatial resolution in improving tractography results. Spatial resolutions higher than 2.0 mm only appear to benefit multi-fiber tractography methods if this is not at the cost of decreased angular resolution.