Cortical thickness gradients in structural hierarchies

Neuroimage. 2015 May 1;111:241-50. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.02.036. Epub 2015 Feb 25.


MRI, enabling in vivo analysis of cortical morphology, offers a powerful tool in the assessment of brain development and pathology. One of the most ubiquitous measures used-the thickness of the cortex-shows abnormalities in a number of diseases and conditions, but the functional and biological correlates of such alterations are unclear. If the functional connotations of structural MRI measures are to be understood, we must strive to clarify the relationship between measures such as cortical thickness and their cytoarchitectural determinants. We therefore sought to determine whether patterns of cortical thickness mirror a key motif of the cortex, specifically its structural hierarchical organisation. We delineated three sensory hierarchies (visual, somatosensory and auditory) in two species-macaque and human-and explored whether cortical thickness was correlated with specific cytoarchitectural characteristics. Importantly, we controlled for cortical folding which impacts upon thickness and may obscure regional differences. Our results suggest that an easily measurable macroscopic brain parameter, namely, cortical thickness, is systematically related to cytoarchitecture and to the structural hierarchical organisation of the cortex. We argue that the measurement of cortical thickness gradients may become an important way to develop our understanding of brain structure-function relationships. The identification of alterations in such gradients may complement the observation of regionally localised cortical thickness changes in our understanding of normal development and neuropsychiatric illnesses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Auditory Cortex / cytology
  • Humans
  • Macaca
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology
  • Visual Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Visual Cortex / cytology