Estimating Brain Connectivity With Diffusion-Weighted Magnetic Resonance Imaging: Promise and Peril

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) is a popular tool for noninvasively assessing properties of white matter in the brain. Among other uses, dMRI data can be used to produce estimates of anatomical connectivity on the basis of tractography. However, direct comparisons of anatomical connectivity as estimated through invasive neural tract-tracing experiments and dMRI-derived connectivity have shown only a moderate relationship in nonhuman primate (particularly macaque) studies. Tractography is plagued by known problems associated with resolution, crossing fibers, and curving fibers, among others. These problems lead to deficits in both sensitivity and specificity, which trade off with each other in multiple datasets. Although not yet examined quantitatively, there is reason to believe that some large white matter bundles, those with more topographic organization, may produce more accurate results than others. Moving forward, sophisticated analytical approaches and anatomical constraints may improve tractography accuracy. However, broadly speaking, dMRI-derived estimates of brain connectivity should be approached with caution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)846-854
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (Grant Nos. R01 MH118257 [to SRH] and T32DA007234 [to MDG] ) and Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (to SRH) .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Society of Biological Psychiatry


  • Anatomy
  • Connectivity
  • Diffusion
  • Imaging
  • Tractography
  • Validation

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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