Superficial white matter imaging: Contrast mechanisms and whole-brain in vivo mapping

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Science Advances  07 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 41, eaaz9281
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz9281


Superficial white matter (SWM) contains the most cortico-cortical white matter connections in the human brain encompassing the short U-shaped association fibers. Despite its importance for brain connectivity, very little is known about SWM in humans, mainly due to the lack of noninvasive imaging methods. Here, we lay the groundwork for systematic in vivo SWM mapping using ultrahigh resolution 7 T magnetic resonance imaging. Using biophysical modeling informed by quantitative ion beam microscopy on postmortem brain tissue, we demonstrate that MR contrast in SWM is driven by iron and can be linked to the microscopic iron distribution. Higher SWM iron concentrations were observed in U-fiber–rich frontal, temporal, and parietal areas, potentially reflecting high fiber density or late myelination in these areas. Our SWM mapping approach provides the foundation for systematic studies of interindividual differences, plasticity, and pathologies of this crucial structure for cortico-cortical connectivity in humans.

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