The human subcortex is a densely populated part of the brain, of which only 7% of the individual structures are depicted in standard MRI atlases. In vivo MRI of the subcortex is challenging owing to its anatomical complexity and its deep location in the brain. The technical advances that are needed to reliably uncover this 'terra incognita' call for an interdisciplinary human neuroanatomical approach. We discuss the emerging methods that could be used in such an approach and the incorporation of the data that are generated from these methods into model-based cognitive neuroscience frameworks.
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The authors thank A. Schäfer, R. Trampel and W. van der Zwaag for helpful discussion about this manuscript and R. Mulray who assisted in proofreading of the manuscript. The authors' research was supported by an ERC grant from the European Research Council (B.U.F.), a Vidi grant from the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (B.U.F.), a grant by the dutch Hersenstichting (B.U.F. and A.A.), and the Dutch Parkinson Funds (B.U.F. and A.A.).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
(BOLD). BOLD imaging refers to MRI contrasts that show changes in the oxygenation of blood, often as a result of neural activity.
- Cognitive models
Models that quantify which latent cognitive processes underlie the behaviour in an experimental paradigm.
- Contrast-to-noise ratio
(CNR). The difference in signal-to-noise ratio between two areas.
- Echo times
The times between magnetic excitation and readout of the signal.
Lower signal intensities in a specific structure than in the surrounding area.
The process of subdividing the brain in structurally distinct units.
- Receiving coils
The magnetic resonance signal in MRI is produced and recorded by two electromagnetic sets of coils: the transmit and the receive coils.
- Signal-to-noise ratio
(SNR). The ratio of the strength of the signal of interest to that of the background noise.
- T1 relaxation times
The time constant that describes the recovery of the longitudinal component of the net magnetization over time.
- T2* relaxation times
The time constant that describes the decay of the transverse component of the net magnetization due to the accumulated phase differences that are caused by spin–spin interactions and local magnetic field inhomogeneities.
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Forstmann, B., de Hollander, G., van Maanen, L. et al. Towards a mechanistic understanding of the human subcortex. Nat Rev Neurosci 18, 57–65 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2016.163
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