OBJECTIVE: The cochlear nucleus (CN) is the target of the auditory brainstem implant (ABI). Most ABI candidates have Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) and distorted brainstem anatomy from bilateral vestibular schwannomas. The CN is difficult to characterize as routine structural MRI does not resolve detailed anatomy. We hypothesize that diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) enables both in vivo localization and quantitative measurements of CN morphology.
STUDY DESIGN: We analyzed 7 Tesla (T) DTI images of 100 subjects (200 CN) and relevant anatomic structures using an MRI brainstem atlas with submillimetric (50 μm) resolution.
SETTING: Tertiary referral center.
PATIENTS: Young healthy normal hearing adults.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Diffusion scalar measures such as fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), mode of anisotropy (Mode), principal eigenvectors of the CN, and the adjacent inferior cerebellar peduncle (ICP).
RESULTS: The CN had a lamellar structure and ventral-dorsal fiber orientation and could be localized lateral to the inferior cerebellar peduncle (ICP). This fiber orientation was orthogonal to tracts of the adjacent ICP where the fibers run mainly caudal-rostrally. The CN had lower FA compared to the medial aspect of the ICP (0.44 ± 0.09 vs. 0.64 ± 0.08, p < 0.001).
CONCLUSIONS: 7T DTI enables characterization of human CN morphology and neuronal substructure. An ABI array insertion vector directed more caudally would better correspond to the main fiber axis of CN. State-of-the-art DTI has implications for ABI preoperative planning and future image guidance-assisted placement of the electrode array.