In vivo mapping of the human locus coeruleus

Neuroimage. 2009 Oct 1;47(4):1261-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.06.012. Epub 2009 Jun 11.


The locus coeruleus (LC) is a brainstem structure that has widespread cortical and sub-cortical projections to modulate states of attention. Our understanding of the LC's role in both normal attention and clinical populations affected by disrupted attention would be advanced by having in vivo functional and structural markers of the human LC. Evidence for LC activation can be difficult to interpret because of uncertainty about whether brainstem activity can be accurately localized to the LC. High resolution T1-turbo spin echo (T1-TSE) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (in-plane resolution of 0.4 mm x 0.4 mm) was used in this study to characterize the location and distribution probability of the LC across 44 adults ranging in age from 19 to 79 years. Utilizing a study-specific brainstem template, the individual brainstems were aligned into standard space, while preserving variations in LC signal intensity. Elevated T1-TSE signal was observed in the rostral pons that was strongly correlated with the position and concentration of LC cells previously reported in a study of post-mortem brains (r=0.90). The elevated T1-TSE signal was used to produce a probabilistic map of the LC in standard Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) coordinate space. This map can be used to test hypotheses about the LC in human structural and functional imaging studies. Such efforts will contribute to our understanding of attention systems in normal and clinical populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement / methods*
  • Locus Coeruleus / cytology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult