AnatomiCuts: Hierarchical clustering of tractography streamlines based on anatomical similarity

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Diffusion MRI tractography produces massive sets of streamlines that contain a wealth of information on brain connections. The size of these datasets creates a need for automated clustering methods to group the streamlines into meaningful bundles. Conventional clustering techniques group streamlines based on their spatial coordinates. Neuroanatomists, however, define white-matter bundles based on the anatomical structures that they go through or next to, rather than their spatial coordinates. Thus we propose a similarity measure for clustering streamlines based on their position relative to cortical and subcortical brain regions. We incorporate this measure into a hierarchical clustering algorithm and compare it to a measure that relies on Euclidean distance, using data from the Human Connectome Project. We show that the anatomical similarity measure leads to a Symbol improvement in the overlap of clusters with manually labeled tracts. Importantly, this is achieved without introducing any prior information from a tract atlas into the clustering algorithm, therefore without imposing the existence of any named tracts.Graphical abstractHighlightsUnsupervised tractography clustering that provides anatomically meaningful bundles.Novel measure of similarity of streamlines based on their anatomical neighorhood.Hierarchical algorithm reveals tree organization of anatomically defined bundles.Comparison of novel anatomical similarity to conventional Euclidean distance measure.We find a 20% improvement in the clusters' overlap with manually labeled bundles.

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