The human lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of the visual thalamus is a key subcortical processing site for visual information analysis. A non-invasive assessment of the LGN and its functionally and microstructurally distinct magnocellular (M) and parvocellular (P) subdivisions in-vivo in humans is challenging, because of its small size and location deep inside the brain. Here we tested whether recent advances in high-field structural quantitative MRI (qMRI) can enable MR-based mapping of human LGN subdivisions. We employed ultra-high resolution 7 Tesla qMRI of a post-mortem human LGN specimen and high-resolution 7 Tesla in-vivo qMRI in a large participant sample. We found that a quantitative assessment of the LGN and a differentiation of its subdivisions was possible based on microstructure-informed MR-contrast alone. In both the post-mortem and in-vivo qMRI data, we identified two components of shorter and longer longitudinal relaxation time (T1) within the LGN that coincided with the known anatomical locations of a dorsal P and a ventral M subdivision, respectively. Through a subsequent ground truth histological examination of the same post-mortem LGN specimen, we showed that the observed T1 contrast pertains to cyto- and myeloarchitectonic differences between LGN subdivisions. These differences were based on cell and myelin density, but not on iron content. Our qMRI-based mapping strategy overcomes shortcomings of previous fMRI-based mapping approaches. It paves the way for an in-depth understanding of the function and microstructure of the LGN in humans. It also enables investigations into the selective contributions of LGN subdivisions to human behavior in health and disease.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience