The midbrain is the rostral-most part of the brainstem. It contains numerous nuclei and white matter tracts, which are involved in motor, auditory and visual processing, and changes in their structure and function have been associated with aging, as well as neurodegenerative disorders. Current tools for estimating midbrain subregions and their structure with MRI require high resolution and multi-parametric quantitative MRI measures. We propose an approach that relies on morphology to calculate profiles along the midbrain and show these profiles are sensitive to the underlying macrostructure of the midbrain. First, we show that the midbrain structure can be sampled, within subject space, along three main axes of the left and right midbrain, producing profiles that are similar across subjects. We use two data sets with different field strengths, that contain R1, R2* and QSM maps and show that the profiles are highly correlated both across subjects and between datasets. Next, we compare profiles of the midbrain that sample ROIs, and show that the profiles along the first two axes sample the midbrain in a way that reliably separates the main structures, i.e., the substantia nigra, the red nucleus, and periaqueductal gray. We further show that age differences which are localized to specific nuclei, are reflected in the profiles. Finally, we generalize the same approach to calculate midbrain profiles on a third clinically relevant dataset using HCP subjects, with metrics such as the diffusion tensor and semi-quantitative data such as T1w/T2w maps. Our results suggest that midbrain profiles, both of quantitative and semi-quantitative estimates are sensitive to the underlying macrostructure of the midbrain. The midbrain profiles are calculated in native space, and rely on simple measurements. We show that it is robust and can be easily expanded to different datasets, and as such we hope that it will be of great use to the community and to the study of the midbrain in particular.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant 1169/20) given to A.A.M. This research was also supported in part by postdoc fellowships awarded to S.B - the Hebrew University Scholarship Program for Post-Doctoral Students Available to Excellent Female Doctoral Students, and the Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program.