Gaining new insights into the anatomy of the human hypothalamus is crucial for the development of new treatment strategies involving functional stereotactic neurosurgery. Here, using anatomical comparisons between histology and magnetic resonance images of the human hypothalamus in the coronal plane, we show that discrete gray and white hypothalamic structures are consistently identifiable by MRI. Macroscopic and microscopic images were used to precisely annotate the MRI sequences realized in the coronal plane in twenty healthy volunteers. MRI was performed on a 1.5 T scanner, using a protocol including T1-weighted 3D fast field echo, T1-weighted inversion-recovery, turbo spin echo and T2-weighted 2D fast field echo imaging. For each gray matter structure as well as for white matter bundles, the different MRI sequences were analyzed in comparison to each other. The anterior commissure and the fornix were often identifiable, while the mammillothalamic tract was more difficult to spot. Qualitative analyses showed that MRI could also highlight finer structures such as the paraventricular nucleus, the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus and the infundibular (arcuate) nucleus, brain nuclei that play key roles in the regulation of food intake and energy homeostasis. The posterior hypothalamic area, a target for deep brain stimulation in the treatment of cluster headaches, was readily identified, as was the lateral hypothalamic area, which similar to the aforementioned hypothalamic nuclei, could be a putative target for deep brain stimulation in the treatment of obesity. Finally, each of the identified structures was mapped to Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) space.
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