Viscoelasticity of striatal brain areas reflects variations in body mass index of lean to overweight male adults

  • Stefan Hetzer
  • Sebastian Hirsch
  • Jürgen Braun
  • Ingolf SackEmail author
  • Martin WeygandtEmail author
Original Research


Although a variety of MRI studies investigated the link between body mass index (BMI) and parameters of neural gray matter (GM), the technique applied in most of these studies, voxel-based morphometry (VBM), focusses on the regional GM volume, a macroscopic tissue property. Thus, the studies were not able to exploit the BMI-related information contained in the GM microstructure although PET studies suggest that these factors are important. Here, we used cerebral MR Elastography (MRE) to characterize features of tissue microstructure by evaluating the propagation of shear waves applied to the skull and to assess local tissue viscoelasticity to test the link between this parameter and BMI in 22 lean to overweight males. Unlike the majority of existing MRE studies investigating neural viscoelasticity signals averaged across large brain regions, we used the viscoelasticity of individual voxels for our experiment. Our technique revealed a negative link between BMI and viscoelasticity of two areas of the striatal reward system, i.e., right putamen (t = −8.2; pFWE-corrected = 0.005) and left globus pallidus (t = −7.1; pFWE = 0.037) which was independent of GM volume at these coordinates. Finally, comparison of BMI models based on individual voxels vs. on signals averaged across brain atlas regions demonstrates that voxel-based models explain a significantly higher proportion of variance. Consequently, our findings show that cerebral MRE is suitable to identify medically relevant microstructural tissue properties. Using a voxel-wise analysis approach, we were able to utilize the high spatial resolution of MRE for mapping BMI-related information in the brain.


Reward system Magnetic resonance elastography Viscoelasticity Body mass index BMI Quantitative MRI 



The authors would like to thank Patric Birr for his valuable help during data acquisition and Thomas Christophel for fruitful discussions.

Funding information

IS and JB received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme (ID 668039, EU FORCE – Imaging the Force of Cancer) and from the German Research Foundation (grant no. Sa 901/16, GRK2260 BIOQIC, SFB1340 Matrix-in-Vision). MW received funding from the German Research Foundation (WE 5967/2-1).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical statement

The study was approved by the ethical review board of the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin in conformity with the Declaration of Helsinki. All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with existing ethical standards. All authors have been personally and actively involved in substantial work leading to the manuscript.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Berlin Center for Advanced NeuroimagingCharité – UniversitätsmedizinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Bernstein Center for Computational NeuroscienceBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Medical InformaticsCharité – Universitätsmedizin BerlinBerlinGermany
  4. 4.Department of RadiologyCharité – Universitätsmedizin BerlinBerlinGermany
  5. 5.Neurocure Excellence ClusterCharité – Universitätsmedizin BerlinBerlinGermany

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