Histologic validation of locus coeruleus MRI contrast in post-mortem tissue

Noam I. Keren, Saeid Taheri, Elena M. Vazey, Paul S. Morgan, Ann Charlotte E. Granholm, Gary S. Aston-Jones, Mark A. Eckert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

45 Scopus citations


The locus coeruleus (LC) noradrenergic system regulates arousal and modulates attention through its extensive projections across the brain. LC dysfunction has been implicated in a broad range of neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders, as well as in the cognitive changes observed during normal aging. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been used to characterize the human LC (elevated contrast relative to surrounding structures), but there is limited understanding of the factors underlying putative LC contrast that are critical to successful biomarker development and confidence in localizing nucleus LC. We used ultra-high-field 7. T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to acquire T1-weighted microscopy resolution images (78. μm in-plane resolution) of the LC from post-mortem tissue samples. Histological analyses were performed to characterize the distribution of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and neuromelanin in the scanned tissue, which allowed for direct comparison with MR microscopy images. Our results indicate that LC-MRI contrast corresponds to the location of neuromelanin cells in LC; these also correspond to norepinephrine neurons. Thus, neuromelanin appears to serve as a natural contrast agent for nucleus LC that can be used to localize nucleus LC and may have the potential to characterize neurodegenerative disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-245
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • Brainstem
  • Histology
  • Inversion recovery
  • MRI
  • Neuromelanin
  • Norepinephrine
  • Post-mortem

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    Keren, N. I., Taheri, S., Vazey, E. M., Morgan, P. S., Granholm, A. C. E., Aston-Jones, G. S., & Eckert, M. A. (2015). Histologic validation of locus coeruleus MRI contrast in post-mortem tissue. NeuroImage, 113, 235-245. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.03.020