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7 Tesla MRI Settles Border Disputes Deep In Brain

April 8, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Where exactly does the amygdala end and the hippocampus begin, and vice versa? A 7 tesla MRI machine can tell.

The question is not merely academic. Those two brain regions play important but distinctive roles in sensory perception, emotion, and memory. Because they’re so deep within the brain, functional MRI studies have difficulty delineating the border between the two. Whether the area that lights up in an fMRI scan is in the amygdala or the hippocampus can make a big difference in brain research—and in diagnosing psychiatric disorders.

Scientists in Freiburg and Magdeburg, Germany, say they now can map the border between the two regions with great precision after experimenting with a 7 tesla scanner on six healthy subjects at the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg. They published their findings online March 12 in Human Brain Mapping.

According to a news release from the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, home of four of the study’s eight authors, the researchers made a surprising discovery:

The border between the amygdala and the hippocampus was different from person to person, and there were even differences between hemispheres in the same brain. As this border is the place where the two regions exchange information with each other, these variations might also be responsible for differences in personality.

The researchers called the border variability “striking.” They suggested that powerful 7 tesla scanners (increasingly found in research settings but just beginning to reach clinical use) should map the hippocampus and amygdala in detail for patients who are being examined for anxiety disorders and other psychiatric conditions. As the research article notes, “Compared to data acquired at 3T, 7T images revealed considerably more structural detail.”

The article suggests further study to determine whether the differing configurations of the amygdalo-hippocampal border might cause functional differences in interaction between the two regions. As more researchers get to play with more powerful toys, we’re sure we’ll have lots more to report.

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