In vivo quantification of amygdala subnuclei using 4.7 T fast spin echo imaging

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The amygdala (AG) is an almond-shaped heterogeneous structure located in the medial temporal lobe. The majority of previous structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) volumetric methods for AG measurement have so far only been able to examine this region as a whole. In order to understand the role of the AG in different neuropsychiatric disorders, it is necessary to understand the functional role of its subnuclei. The main goal of the present study was to develop a reliable volumetric method to delineate major AG subnuclei groups using ultra-high resolution high field MRI.

38 healthy volunteers (15 males and 23 females, 21–60 years of age) without any history of medical or neuropsychiatric disorders were recruited for this study. Structural MRI datasets were acquired at 4.7 T Varian Inova MRI system using a fast spin echo (FSE) sequence.

The AG was manually segmented into its five major anatomical subdivisions: lateral (La), basal (B), accessory basal (AB) nuclei, and cortical (Co) and centromedial (CeM) groups. Inter-(intra-) rater reliability of our novel volumetric method was assessed using intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC) and Dice's Kappa.

Our results suggest that reliable measurements of the AG subnuclei can be obtained by image analysts with experience in AG anatomy. We provided a step-by-step segmentation protocol and reported absolute and relative volumes for the AG subnuclei. Our results showed that the basolateral (BLA) complex occupies seventy-eight percent of the total AG volume, while CeM and Co groups occupy twenty-two percent of the total AG volume. Finally, we observed no hemispheric effects and no gender differences in the total AG volume and the volumes of its subnuclei.

Future applications of this method will help to understand the selective vulnerability of the AG subnuclei in neurological and psychiatric disorders.

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