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Mona Rosenke
Graduate Student

Generating a cross-validated cytoarchitectonic atlas of the human ventral stream

The human ventral visual stream consists of several areas that are considered processing stages essential for perception and recognition. A fundamental microanatomical feature differentiating areas is cytoarchitecture, which refers to the distribution, size, and density of cells across cortical layers. Because cytoarchitectonic structure is measured in 20-micron-thick histological slices of postmortem tissue, it is difficult to assess (a) how anatomically consistent these areas are across brains and (b) how they relate to brain parcellations obtained with prevalent neuroimaging methods, acquired at the millimeter and centimeter scale. Therefore, the goal of this study was to (a) generate a cross-validated cytoarchitectonic atlas of the human ventral visual stream on a whole brain template that is commonly used in neuroimaging studies and (b) to compare this atlas to a recently published retinotopic parcellation of visual cortex (Wang et al., 2014). To achieve this goal, we generated an atlas of eight cytoarchitectonic areas: four areas in the occipital lobe (hOc1-hOc4v) and four in the fusiform gyrus (FG1-FG4), then we tested how the different alignment techniques affect the accuracy of the resulting atlas. Results show that both cortex-based alignment (CBA) and nonlinear volumetric alignment (NVA) generate an atlas with better cross-validation performance than affine volumetric alignment (AVA). Additionally, CBA outperformed NVA in 6/8 of the cytoarchitectonic areas. Finally, the comparison of the cytoarchitectonic atlas to a retinotopic atlas shows a clear correspondence between cytoarchitectonic and retinotopic areas in the ventral visual stream. The successful performance of CBA suggests a coupling between cytoarchitectonic areas and macroanatomical landmarks in the human ventral visual stream, and furthermore, that this coupling can be utilized for generating an accurate group atlas. In addition, the coupling between cytoarchitecture and retinotopy highlights the potential use of this atlas in understanding how anatomical features contribute to brain function. We make this cytoarchitectonic atlas freely available in both BrainVoyager and FreeSurfer formats (www.vpnl.stanford.edu/vcAtlas/). The availability of this atlas will enable future studies to link cytoarchitectonic organization to other parcellations of the human ventral visual stream with potential to advance the understanding of this pathway in typical and atypical populations.