High-resolution multiscale and multimodal 3D models of the brain are essential tools to understand its complex structural and functional organization. Neuroimaging techniques addressing different aspects of brain organization should be integrated in a reference space to enable topographically correct alignment and subsequent analysis of the various datasets and their modalities. The Waxholm Space (http://software.incf.org/software/waxholm-space) is a publicly available 3D coordinate-based standard reference space for the mapping and registration of neuroanatomical data in rodent brains. This paper provides a newly developed pipeline combining imaging and reconstruction steps with a novel registration strategy to integrate new neuroimaging modalities into the Waxholm Space atlas. As a proof of principle, we incorporated large scale high-resolution cyto-, muscarinic M2 receptor, and fiber architectonic images of rat brains into the 3D digital MRI based atlas of the Sprague Dawley rat in Waxholm Space. We describe the whole workflow, from image acquisition to reconstruction and registration of these three modalities into the Waxholm Space rat atlas. The registration of the brain sections into the atlas is performed by using both linear and non-linear transformations. The validity of the procedure is qualitatively demonstrated by visual inspection, and a quantitative evaluation is performed by measurement of the concordance between representative atlas-delineated regions and the same regions based on receptor or fiber architectonic data. This novel approach enables for the first time the generation of 3D reconstructed volumes of nerve fibers and fiber tracts, or of muscarinic M2 receptor density distributions, in an entire rat brain. Additionally, our pipeline facilitates the inclusion of further neuroimaging datasets, e.g., 3D reconstructed volumes of histochemical stainings or of the regional distributions of multiple other receptor types, into the Waxholm Space. Thereby, a multiscale and multimodal rat brain model was created in the Waxholm Space atlas of the rat brain. Since the registration of these multimodal high-resolution datasets into the same coordinate system is an indispensable requisite for multi-parameter analyses, this approach enables combined studies on receptor and cell distributions as well as fiber densities in the same anatomical structures at microscopic scales for the first time.
Keywords: brain atlas; histology; image registration; polarized light imaging; quantitative receptor autoradiography.