The anatomo-functional organization of the hyperdirect cortical pathway to the subthalamic area using in vivo structural connectivity imaging in humans

Brain Struct Funct. 2020 Mar;225(2):551-565. doi: 10.1007/s00429-019-02012-6. Epub 2019 Dec 19.


The subthalamic nucleus (STN) receives direct cortical inputs which constitute the so-called hyperdirect pathway. In monkeys, motor cortices innervate the whole extent of the STN whereas limbic cortices innervate only its anteromedial part extending more medially outside the nucleus. Tractography studies in humans have also identified motor cortical inputs to the STN, but little is known about the associative and limbic cortical projections. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the anatomo-functional organization of the cortical projections to the STN and to the adjacent medial subthamic region (MSR). We used diffusion-weighted imaging-based tractography acquired from 30 subjects from the Human Connectome Project. We performed a whole-brain probabilistic tractography using MRTrix and extracted streamlines of interest between 39 cortical masks and both the STN and the MSR to provide track-density maps. Agglomerative clustering method was used to classify the voxels of the regions of interest. We found that the STN receives major inputs from the sensorimotor cortices and few inputs from the limbic cortices. On the other hand, the MSR receives mainly cortical limbic projections and few from the sensorimotor cortices. Weak connections were found between the associative cortices and both the STN and the MSR. We found a dominant motor cluster located in the posterolateral STN, a limbic cluster located medially in the MSR, and an intermediate motor-limbic cluster in between. Our findings show that the hyperdirect pathway is anatomo-functionally organized with a poor participation of associative cortices.

Keywords: Cortical projections; Diffusion-weighted imaging-based tractography; Human; Limbic cortex; Sensorimotor cortex; Subthalamic area.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Connectome
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / anatomy & histology*
  • Limbic System / diagnostic imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Subthalamic Nucleus / anatomy & histology*
  • Subthalamic Nucleus / diagnostic imaging