The ventral tegmental area (VTA) and substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) are assumed to play a key role in dopamine-related functions such as reward-related behaviour, motivation, addiction and motor functioning. Although dopamine-producing midbrain structures are bordering, they show significant differences in structure and function that argue for a distinction when studying the functions of the dopaminergic midbrain, especially by means of neuroimaging. First, unlike the SNc, the VTA is not a nucleus, which makes it difficult to delineate the structure due to lack of clear anatomical borders. Second, there is no consensus in the literature about the anatomical nomenclature to describe the VTA. Third, these factors in combination with limitations in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) complicate VTA visualization. We suggest that developing an MRI-compatible probabilistic atlas of the VTA will help to overcome these issues. Such an atlas can be used to identify the individual VTA and serve as region-of-interest for functional MRI.
Keywords: Dopamine; High-resolution MRI; Midbrain; Neuroimaging; Terminology; Ventral tegmental area.
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