Magnetic resonance imaging of the human locus coeruleus: A systematic review

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The locus coeruleus (LC), the major origin of noradrenergic modulation of the central nervous system, innervates extensive areas throughout the brain and is implicated in a variety of autonomic and cognitive functions. Alterations in the LC-noradrenergic system have been associated with healthy ageing and neuropsychiatric disorders including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and depression. The last decade has seen advances in imaging the structure and function of the LC, and this paper systematically reviews the methodology and outcomes of sixty-nine structural and functional MRI studies of the LC in humans. Structural MRI studies consistently showed lower LC signal intensity and volume in clinical groups compared to healthy controls. Within functional studies, the LC was activated by a variety of tasks/stimuli and had functional connectivity to a range of brain regions. However, reported functional LC location coordinates were widely distributed compared to previously published neuroanatomical locations. Methodological and demographic factors potentially contributing to these differences are discussed, together with recommendations to optimize the reliability and validity of future LC imaging studies.

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