PublicationsIn vivo visualization of the locus coeruleus in humans: quantifying the test-retest reliability
The locus coeruleus (LC) is a brainstem nucleus involved in important cognitive functions. Recent developments in neuroimaging methods and scanning protocols have made it possible to visualize the human LC in vivo by utilizing a T1-weighted turbo spin echo (TSE) scan. Despite its frequent use and its application as a biomarker for tracking the progress of monoaminergic-related neurodegenerative diseases, no study to date has investigated the reproducibility and inter-observer variability of LC identification using this TSE scan sequence. In this paper, we aim to quantify the test-retest reliability of LC imaging by assessing stability of the TSE contrast of the LC across two independent scan sessions and by quantifying the intra- and inter-rater reliability of the TSE scan. Additionally, we created a probabilistic LC atlas which can facilitate the spatial localization of the LC in standardized (MNI) space. Seventeen healthy volunteers participated in two scanning sessions with a mean intersession interval of 2.8 months. We found that for intra-rater reliability the mean Dice coefficient ranged between 0.65 and 0.74, and inter-rater reliability ranged between 0.54 and 0.64, showing moderate reproducibility. The mean LC contrast was 13.9% (SD 3.8) and showed scan-rescan stability (ROI approach: ICC = 0.63; maximum intensity approach: ICC = 0.53). We conclude that localization and segmentation of the LC in vivo are a challenging but reliable enterprise although clinical or longitudinal studies should be carried out carefully.