The subthalamic nucleus (STN) is a small, glutamatergic nucleus situated in the diencephalon. A critical component of normal motor function, it has become a key target for deep brain stimulation in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. Animal studies have demonstrated the existence of three functional sub-zones but these have never been shown conclusively in humans. In this work, a data driven method with diffusion weighted imaging demonstrated that three distinct clusters exist within the human STN based on brain connectivity profiles. The STN was successfully sub-parcellated into these regions, demonstrating good correspondence with that described in the animal literature. The local connectivity of each sub-region supported the hypothesis of bilateral limbic, associative and motor regions occupying the anterior, mid and posterior portions of the nucleus respectively. This study is the first to achieve in-vivo, non-invasive anatomical parcellation of the human STN into three anatomical zones within normal diagnostic scan times, which has important future implications for deep brain stimulation surgery.
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