Direct visualization of the subthalamic nucleus and its iron distribution using high-resolution susceptibility mapping

Hum Brain Mapp. 2012 Dec;33(12):2831-42. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21404. Epub 2011 Sep 20.


Histological studies have shown a relatively high iron concentration in the subthalamic nucleus (STN). T2- and T2*-weighted sequences have previously been used to visualize the STN in vivo. The phase information of gradient-echo images reflects the magnetic tissue properties more directly, e.g., iron is more paramagnetic than water. Unfortunately, phase images suffer from non-local effects and orientation dependency. The goal of this study is to delineate the STN more precisely using susceptibility maps, calculated from phase images, which directly index magnetic tissue properties while removing the non-local effects and orientation dependency. Use of 7T MRI enables high spatial resolution with good signal to noise ratio (SNR). Eight healthy subjects were scanned at 7T using a high-resolution 3D gradient-echo sequence. Susceptibility maps were calculated from phase data using a thresholding Fourier approach and a regularization approach using spatial priors. The susceptibility maps clearly distinguish the STN from the adjacent substantia nigra (SN). Their susceptibilities are quantitatively different (0.06 and 0.1 ppm for the STN and SN, respectively). These maps allowed the STN, SN, and the red nucleus to be manually segmented, thus providing 3D visualization of their boundaries. In sum, the STN can be more clearly distinguished from adjacent structures in susceptibility maps than in T2*-weighted images or phase images.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement / methods
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Iron / analysis*
  • Male
  • Subthalamic Nucleus / chemistry*


  • Iron