Mapping the living mouse brain neural architecture: strain-specific patterns of brain structural and functional connectivity

Brain Struct Funct. 2021 Apr;226(3):647-669. doi: 10.1007/s00429-020-02190-8. Epub 2021 Feb 26.


Mapping brain structural and functional connectivity (FC) became an essential approach in neuroscience as network properties can underlie behavioral phenotypes. In mouse models, revealing strain-related patterns of brain wiring is crucial, since these animals are used to answer questions related to neurological or neuropsychiatric disorders. C57BL/6 and BALB/cJ strains are two of the primary "genetic backgrounds" for modeling brain disease and testing therapeutic approaches. However, extensive literature describes basal differences in the behavioral, neuroanatomical and neurochemical profiles of the two strains, which raises questions on whether the observed effects are pathology specific or depend on the genetic background of each strain. Here, we performed a systematic comparative exploration of brain structure and function of C57BL/6 and BALB/cJ mice using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). We combined deformation-based morphometry (DBM), diffusion MRI and high-resolution fiber mapping (hrFM) along with resting-state functional MRI (rs-fMRI) and demonstrated brain-wide differences in the morphology and "connectome" features of the two strains. Essential inter-strain differences were depicted regarding the size and the fiber density (FD) within frontal cortices, along cortico-striatal, thalamic and midbrain pathways as well as genu and splenium of corpus callosum. Structural dissimilarities were accompanied by specific FC patterns, emphasizing strain differences in frontal and basal forebrain functional networks as well as hubness characteristics. Rs-fMRI data further indicated differences of reward-aversion circuitry and default mode network (DMN) patterns. The inter-hemispherical FC showed flexibility and strain-specific adjustment of their patterns in agreement with the structural characteristics.

Keywords: BALB/cJ; C57BL6/N; Diffusion tensor imaging; Inbred strains; Mouse brain connectivity; Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Connectome / methods
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Mice
  • Nerve Net / pathology*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Neural Pathways / pathology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Reward