Direct diffusion-based parcellation of the human thalamus


To assess stable anatomical features of the human thalamus, an unbiased diffusion tensor parcellation approach was used to segment thalamic substructures with similar spatial orientation. We determined localization, size and individual variations of 21 thalamic clusters in a group of 63 healthy human subjects (32 males/31 females). The laterality differences accounted for ±6 % and gender differences for ±4 % of the thalamic volume. Consecutively, five stable clusters in the anterior, medial, lateral and posterior thalamus were selected, which were common to 90 % of all subjects and contained at least 10 voxels. These clusters could be assigned to the anteroventral nucleus (AN) group, the mediodorsal (MD) nucleus, the medial pulvinar (PuM), and the lateral nuclei group. The subcortical and cortical connectivity of these clusters revealed that: (1) the oblique cranio-caudal-oriented fibers of the AN cluster mainly connect to limbic structures, (2) the numerous dorso-frontal-oriented fibers of MD mainly project to the prefrontal cortex and the medial temporal lobe, (3) the fibers of the PuM running in parallel with the x-axis project to medio-occipital and medio-temporal areas and connect visual areas with the hippocampus and amygdala and via intrathalamic pathways with medio-frontal areas, and (4) the oblique caudo-cranial fibers of the two lateral clusters located anteriorly in the motor and posteriorly in the sensory thalamus are routing sensory–motor information from the brain stem via the internal capsule to pre- and peri-central regions of the cortex.

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Anterior commissure


Nucleus accumbens


Anterodorsal nucleus


Anteromedial nucleus




Anterior cluster


Anteroventral group




Caudate nucleus


Center of gravity


Dominant diffusion orientations


Dentate nucleus


Diffusion tensor imaging


Echo planar imaging




Lateral-anterior cluster


Lateral dorsal group


Lateral-posterior cluster


Mediodorsal nucleus


Medial cluster


Magnetic resonance imaging




Posterior commissure


Posterior cluster


Medial pulvinar




Red nucleus


Standard deviation

T :



Echo time


Repetition time


Ventral anterior


Ventral lateral anterior


Ventral lateral posterior


Ventral medial


Ventral posterior complex


Ventral posterior inferior nucleus


Ventral posterolateral


Ventral posteromedial


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The digital model of the 3D anatomy of the thalamus according to the atlas of Morel (Krauth et al. 2010) was obtained by a written consent with Prof. G. Székely from the Computer Vision Laboratory of the ETH Zürich. We thank Susanne Reiterer for providing the data, Klaus Scheffler for giving access to analysis facilities, Bernd Kardatzki for technical support, Ute Habel, and Eugene Datta for reviewing the manuscript. The German research council (DFG) Grant GR 833/9-1 in part supported this work.

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Correspondence to Wolfgang Grodd.

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Kumar, V., Mang, S. & Grodd, W. Direct diffusion-based parcellation of the human thalamus. Brain Struct Funct 220, 1619–1635 (2015).

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  • Thalamus
  • Anatomy
  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • Laterality
  • Gender
  • Connectivity