Automated Whole Brain Tractography Affects Preoperative Surgical Decision Making

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Surgery in and around eloquent brain structures poses a technical challenge when the goal of surgery is maximal safe resection. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders, but tractography still remains limited in terms of utility because of the requisite manual labor and time required combined with the high risk of bias and inaccuracy. Automated whole brain tractography (AWBT) has simplified this workflow, overcoming historical barriers, and allowing for integration into modern neuronavigation. However, current literature showing the usefulness of this new technology is limited. In this study, we aimed to illustrate the utility of AWBT during cranial surgery and its ability to affect presurgical and intraoperative clinical decision making. We performed a retrospective chart review of cases that underwent AWBT for one year from July 2016 to July 2017. All patients underwent conventional anatomic MRI with and without contrast sequences, in addition to diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) on a 3 Tesla MRI scanner (Ingenia 3.0T, Philips, Amsterdam NL). Post-hoc AWBT processing was performed on a separate workstation. Patients were subsequently grouped into those that had undergone either language or motor mapping and those that did not. We compared both sets of patients to see any differences in patient age, sex, laterality of surgery, depth of resection from cortical surface, and smallest distance between the lesion and adjacent eloquent white matter tracts. We identified illustrative cases which demonstrated the ability of AWBT to affect surgical decision making. In this single-center series, we identified 73 total patients who underwent AWBT for intracranial surgery, of which 28 patients underwent either speech or language mapping. When comparing mapping to non-mapping patients, we found no difference with respect to age, gender, laterality of surgery, or whether the surgery was a revision. The distance between the lesion and eloquent white matter tracts demonstrated a statistically significant difference between mapping and non-mapping patients, namely in the corticospinal tract (p < 0.0001), the superior longitudinal fasciculus (p < 0.0001), and the arcuate fasciculus (p < 0.004). Patients who underwent mapping were at equal risk for having a postoperative deficit (p = 0.772) but had an improved chance of recovery (p = 0.041) after surgery. We believe this phenomenon is related to increased awareness and avoidance of functional tissue during surgery, which occurs due to the combination of preoperatively identifying white matter tracts with AWBT and intraoperatively testing margins with mapping. We provide two illustrative cases that show the impact of AWBT on patient outcomes. In conclusion, AWBT is relatively simple to perform and provides vital information for surgeons about eloquent white matter tracts that can be used to help improve patient outcomes.

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