Kernel regression estimation of fiber orientation mixtures in diffusion MRI


We present and evaluate a method for kernel regression estimation of fiber orientations and associated volume fractions for diffusion MR tractography and population-based atlas construction in clinical imaging studies of brain white matter. This is a model-based image processing technique in which representative fiber models are estimated from collections of component fiber models in model-valued image data. This extends prior work in nonparametric image processing and multi-compartment processing to provide computational tools for image interpolation, smoothing, and fusion with fiber orientation mixtures. In contrast to related work on multi-compartment processing, this approach is based on directional measures of divergence and includes data-adaptive extensions for model selection and bilateral filtering. This is useful for reconstructing complex anatomical features in clinical datasets analyzed with the ball-and-sticks model, and our framework’s data-adaptive extensions are potentially useful for general multi-compartment image processing. We experimentally evaluate our approach with both synthetic data from computational phantoms and in vivo clinical data from human subjects. With synthetic data experiments, we evaluate performance based on errors in fiber orientation, volume fraction, compartment count, and tractography-based connectivity. With in vivo data experiments, we first show improved scan-rescan reproducibility and reliability of quantitative fiber bundle metrics, including mean length, volume, streamline count, and mean volume fraction. We then demonstrate the creation of a multi-fiber tractography atlas from a population of 80 human subjects. In comparison to single tensor atlasing, our multi-fiber atlas shows more complete features of known fiber bundles and includes reconstructions of the lateral projections of the corpus callosum and complex fronto-parietal connections of the superior longitudinal fasciculus I, II, and III.