Markus Axer, Katrin Amunts, David Gräßel, Christoph Palm, Jürgen Dammers, Hubertus Axer, Uwe Pietrzyk, Karl Zilles
Signal transmission between different brain regions requires connecting fiber tracts, the structural basis of the human connectome. In contrast to animal brains, where a multitude of tract tracing methods can be used, magnetic resonance (MR)-based diffusion imaging is presently the only promising approach to study fiber tracts between specific human brain regions. However, this procedure has various inherent restrictions caused by its relatively low spatial resolution. Here, we introduce 3D-polarized light imaging (3D-PLI) to map the three-dimensional course of fiber tracts in the human brain with a resolution at a submillimeter scale based on a voxel size of 100 μm isotropic or less. 3D-PLI demonstrates nerve fibers by utilizing their intrinsic birefringence of myelin sheaths surrounding axons. This optical method enables the demonstration of 3D fiber orientations in serial microtome sections of entire human brains. Examples for the feasibility of this novel approach are given here. 3D-PLI enables the study of brain regions of intense fiber crossing in unprecedented detail, and provides an independent evaluation of fiber tracts derived from diffusion imaging data.