The development of novel techniques for the in vivo, non-invasive visualization and identification of thalamic nuclei has represented a major challenge for human neuroimaging research in the last decades. Thalamic nuclei have important implications in various key aspects of brain physiology and many of them show selective alterations in various neurologic and psychiatric disorders. In addition, both surgical stimulation and ablation of specific thalamic nuclei have been proven to be useful for the treatment of different neuropsychiatric diseases. The present work aimed at describing a novel protocol for histologically-guided delineation of thalamic nuclei based on short-tracks track-density imaging (stTDI), which is an advanced imaging technique that exploits high angular resolution diffusion tractography to obtain super-resolved white matter maps with high anatomical information. We tested this protocol on i) six healthy individual 3T MRI scans from the Human Connectome Project database, and on ii) a group population template reconstructed by averaging 100 unrelated healthy subjects scans from the same repository. We demonstrated that this approach can identify up to 13 distinct thalamic nuclei bilaterally with very high reliability (intraclass correlation coefficient: 0.996, 95% CI: 0.993-0.998; total accumulated overlap: 0.43) and that both subject-based and group-level thalamic parcellation show a fair share of similarity to a recent standard-space histological thalamic atlas. Finally, we showed that stTDI-derived thalamic maps can be successfully employed to study thalamic structural and functional connectivity, and may have potential implications both for basic and translational research, as well as for pre-surgical planning purposes.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience