Brainstem Imaging Laboratory

Brainstem Imaging Laboratory

The Brainstem Imaging Lab has the goal of developing an in vivo neuroimaging-based atlas and connectome of brainstem nuclei by high- and ultra-high field MRI to enhance our knowledge and the quality of patient care in a vast array of brainstem-related disorders.


The brainstem is a stem-like area at the base of the brain. In humans, it is slightly bigger than a thumb. Yet, it contains over 300 subregions (nuclei and sub-nuclei) that regulate several vital functions (sleep and wakefulness, respiration, heartbeat, body and head motion, sensations, pain, emotions). As opposed to the cortex, most brainstem nuclei and pathways have not been mapped in living humans yet.

The Brainstem Imaging Lab, lead by Marta Bianciardi, PhD, uses dedicated MRI pulse sequences and scanners (such as 7 Tesla scanner, 3 Tesla “Connectome” scanner) to identify in living humans the location of brainstem nuclei, their connectivity pathways with the rest of the brain, as well as the brainstem mechanisms that regulate these vital functions in health and disease.

In collaboration with clinicians from MGH and academic centers worldwide, our team is currently working on the translational application of the brainstem nuclei atlas and connectome to improve our understanding of arousal mechanisms in coma and its prognostication. We are also investigating arousal and motor mechanisms in REM-sleep behavior disorder, a premotor model of Parkinson’s disease, with the goal of developing prodromal (early) brainstem-based imaging biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease. Our most recent efforts are devoted to map autonomic-vestibular pathways and functional interactions in healthy subjects as a baseline for future studies of vestibular disorders.

The lab is located at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging (MGH, HMS).

Learn more by visiting the Brainstem Imaging Lab website.



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