Direct visualization and characterization of the human zona incerta and surrounding structures
Human Brain Mapping
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The zona incerta (ZI) is a small gray matter region of the deep brain first identified in the 19th century, yet direct in vivo visualization and characterization has remained elusive. Noninvasive detection of the ZI and surrounding region could be critical to further our understanding of this widely connected but poorly understood deep brain region and could contribute to the development and optimization of neuromodulatory therapies. We demonstrate that high resolution (submillimetric) longitudinal (T1) relaxometry measurements at high magnetic field strength (7 T) can be used to delineate the ZI from surrounding white matter structures, specifically the fasciculus cerebellothalamicus, fields of Forel (fasciculus lenticularis, fasciculus thalamicus, and field H), and medial lemniscus. Using this approach, we successfully derived in vivo estimates of the size, shape, location, and tissue characteristics of substructures in the ZI region, confirming observations only previously possible through histological evaluation that this region is not just a space between structures but contains distinct morphological entities that should be considered separately. Our findings pave the way for increasingly detailed in vivo study and provide a structural foundation for precise functional and neuromodulatory investigation.