In-vivo quantitative structural imaging of the human midbrain and the superior colliculus at 9.4T

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We explored anatomical details of the superior colliculus (SC) by in vivo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at 9.4T. The high signal-to-noise ratio allowed the acquisition of high resolution, multi-modal images with voxel sizes ranging between 176 × 132 × 600 μm and (800)3μm. Quantitative mapping of the longitudinal relaxation rate R1, the effective transverse relaxation rate R2*, and the magnetic susceptibility QSM was performed in 14 healthy volunteers. The images were analyzed in native space as well as after normalization to a common brain space (MNI). The coefficient-of-variation (CoV) across subjects was evaluated in prominent regions of the midbrain, reaching the best reproducibility (CoV of 5%) in the R2* maps of the SC in MNI space, while the CoV in the QSM maps remained high regardless of brain-space. To investigate whether more complex neurobiological architectural features could be detected, depth profiles through the SC layers towards the red nucleus (RN) were evaluated at different levels of the SC along the rostro-caudal axis. This analysis revealed alterations of the quantitative MRI parameters concordant with previous post mortem histology studies of the cyto- and myeloarchitecture of the SC. In general, the R1 maps were hyperintense in areas characterized by the presence of abundant myelinated fibers, and likely enabled detection of the deep white layer VII of the SC adjacent to the periaqueductal gray. While R1 maps failed to reveal finer details, possibly due to the relatively coarse spatial sampling used for this modality, these could be recovered in R2* maps and in QSM. In the central part of the SC along its rostro-caudal axis, increased R2* values and decreased susceptibility values were observed 2 mm below the SC surface, likely reflecting the myelinated fibers in the superficial optic layer (layer III). Towards the deeper layers, a second increase in R2* was paralleled by a paramagnetic shift in QSM suggesting the presence of an iron-rich layer about 3 mm below the surface of the SC, attributed to the intermediate gray layer (IV) composed of multipolar neurons. These results dovetail observations in histological specimens and animal studies and demonstrate that high-resolution multi-modal MRI at 9.4T can reveal several microstructural features of the SC in vivo.

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