‘Whose atlas I use, his song I sing?’ – The impact of anatomical atlases on fiber tract contributions to cognitive deficits after stroke

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Abstract

Nowadays, different anatomical atlases exist for the anatomical interpretation of the results from neuroimaging and lesion analysis studies that investigate the contribution of white matter fiber tract integrity to cognitive (dys)function. A major problem with the use of different atlases in different studies, however, is that the anatomical interpretation of neuroimaging and lesion analysis results might vary as a function of the atlas used. This issue might be particularly prominent in studies that investigate the contribution of white matter fiber tract integrity to cognitive (dys)function. We used a single large-sample dataset of right brain damaged stroke patients with and without cognitive deficit (here: spatial neglect) to systematically compare the influence of three different, widely-used white matter fiber tract atlases (1 histology-based atlas and 2 DTI tractography-based atlases) on conclusions concerning the involvement of white matter fiber tracts in the pathogenesis of cognitive dysfunction. We both calculated the overlap between the statistical lesion analysis results and each long association fiber tract (topological analyses) and performed logistic regressions on the extent of fiber tract damage in each individual for each long association white matter fiber tract (hodological analyses). For the topological analyses, our results suggest that studies that use tractography-based atlases are more likely to conclude that white matter integrity is critical for a cognitive (dys)function than studies that use a histology-based atlas. The DTI tractography-based atlases classified approximately 10 times as many voxels of the statistical map as being located in a long association white matter fiber tract than the histology-based atlas. For hodological analyses on the other hand, we observed that the conclusions concerning the overall importance of long association fiber tract integrity to cognitive function do not necessarily depend on the white matter atlas used, but conclusions may vary as a function of atlas used at the level of individual fiber tracts. Moreover, these analyses revealed that hodological studies that express the individual extent of injury to each fiber tract as a binomial variable are more likely to conclude that white matter integrity is critical for a cognitive function than studies that express the individual extent of injury to each fiber tract as a continuous variable.

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