A taxonomy of the brain’s white matter: twenty-one major tracts for the 21st century

Daniel N. Bullock, Elena A. Hayday, Mark D Grier, Wei Tang, Franco Pestilli, Sarah R. Heilbronner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The functional and computational properties of brain areas are determined, in large part, by their connectivity profiles. Advances in neuroimaging and network neuroscience allow us to characterize the human brain noninvasively, but a comprehensive understanding of the human brain demands an account of the anatomy of brain connections. Long-range anatomical connections are instantiated by white matter, which itself is organized into tracts. These tracts are often disrupted by central nervous system disorders, and they can be targeted by neuromodulatory interventions, such as deep brain stimulation. Here, we characterized the connections, morphology, traversal, and functions of the major white matter tracts in the brain. There are major discrepancies across different accounts of white matter tract anatomy, hindering our attempts to accurately map the connectivity of the human brain. However, we are often able to clarify the source(s) of these discrepancies through careful consideration of both histological tract-tracing and diffusion-weighted tractography studies. In combination, the advantages and disadvantages of each method permit novel insights into brain connectivity. Ultimately, our synthesis provides an essential reference for neuroscientists and clinicians interested in brain connectivity and anatomy, allowing for the study of the association of white matter’s properties with behavior, development, and disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4524-4548
Number of pages25
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 15 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.


  • connectivity
  • neuroimaging
  • tract-tracing
  • tractography
  • white matter


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