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The hippocampus as we have never seen

​NeuroSpin researchers, in collaboration with two German Research Teams in the context of the Human Brain Project (HBP), offer a mapping of the hippocampus with unprecedented resolution, thanks to the very high field MRI, revealing not only its sub-structures, but also its internal neuronal connections and its cellular composition.

Published on 15 March 2018


The human hippocampus plays a key role in memory management and is one of the first structures affected by Alzheimer's disease. Ultra-high magnetic resonance imaging provides access to its inner structure in vivo. However, gradient limitations on clinical systems hinder access to its inner connectivity and microstructure. A major target of this paper is the demonstration of diffusion MRI potential, using ultra-high field (11.7 T) and strong gradients (750 mT/m), to reveal the extra- and intra-hippocampal connectivity in addition to its microstructure. To this purpose, a multiple-shell diffusion-weighted acquisition protocol was developed to reach an ultra-high spatio-angular resolution with a good signal-to-noise ratio. The MRI data set was analyzed using analytical Q-Ball Imaging, Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), and Neurite Orientation Dispersion and Density Imaging models. High Angular Resolution Diffusion Imaging estimates allowed us to obtain an accurate tractography resolving more complex fiber architecture than DTI models, and subsequently provided a map of the cross-regional connectivity. The neurite density was akin to that found in the histological literature, revealing the three hippocampal layers. Moreover, a gradient of connectivity and neurite density was observed between the anterior and the posterior part of the hippocampus. These results demonstrate that ex vivo ultra-high field/ultra-high gradients diffusion-weighted MRI allows the mapping of the inner connectivity of the human hippocampus, its microstructure, and to accurately reconstruct elements of the polysynaptic intra-hippocampal pathway using fiber tractography techniques at very high spatial/angular resolutions.

Read the French version.

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