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Papers of the Week

2022 Mar 19

Hum Brain Mapp

Structural connectivity of autonomic, pain, limbic, and sensory brainstem nuclei in living humans based on 7 Tesla and 3 Tesla MRI.


Singh K, García-Gomar M G, Cauzzo S, Staab JP, Indovina I, Bianciardi M
Hum Brain Mapp. 2022 Mar 19.
PMID: 35305272.


Autonomic, pain, limbic, and sensory processes are mainly governed by the central nervous system, with brainstem nuclei as relay centers for these crucial functions. Yet, the structural connectivity of brainstem nuclei in living humans remains understudied. These tiny structures are difficult to locate using conventional in vivo MRI, and ex vivo brainstem nuclei atlases lack precise and automatic transformability to in vivo images. To fill this gap, we mapped our recently developed probabilistic brainstem nuclei atlas developed in living humans to high-spatial resolution (1.7 mm isotropic) and diffusion weighted imaging (DWI) at 7 Tesla in 20 healthy participants. To demonstrate clinical translatability, we also acquired 3 Tesla DWI with conventional resolution (2.5 mm isotropic) in the same participants. Results showed the structural connectome of 15 autonomic, pain, limbic, and sensory (including vestibular) brainstem nuclei/nuclei complex (superior/inferior colliculi, ventral tegmental area-parabrachial pigmented, microcellular tegmental-parabigeminal, lateral/medial parabrachial, vestibular, superior olivary, superior/inferior medullary reticular formation, viscerosensory motor, raphe magnus/pallidus/obscurus, parvicellular reticular nucleus-alpha part), derived from probabilistic tractography computation. Through graph measure analysis, we identified network hubs and demonstrated high intercommunity communication in these nuclei. We found good (r = .5) translational capability of the 7 Tesla connectome to clinical (i.e., 3 Tesla) datasets. Furthermore, we validated the structural connectome by building diagrams of autonomic/pain/limbic connectivity, vestibular connectivity, and their interactions, and by inspecting the presence of specific links based on human and animal literature. These findings offer a baseline for studies of these brainstem nuclei and their functions in health and disease, including autonomic dysfunction, chronic pain, psychiatric, and vestibular disorders.