Thalamus Optimized Multi Atlas Segmentation (THOMAS): fast, fully automated segmentation of thalamic nuclei from structural MRI

Jason H. Su, Francis T. Thomas, Willard S. Kasoff, Thomas Tourdias, Eun Young Choi, Brian K. Rutt, Manojkumar Saranathan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


The thalamus and its nuclei are largely indistinguishable on standard T1 or T2 weighted MRI. While diffusion tensor imaging based methods have been proposed to segment the thalamic nuclei based on the angular orientation of the principal diffusion tensor, these are based on echo planar imaging which is inherently limited in spatial resolution and suffers from distortion. We present a multi-atlas segmentation technique based on white-matter-nulled MP-RAGE imaging that segments the thalamus into 12 nuclei with computation times on the order of 10 min on a desktop PC; we call this method THOMAS (THalamus Optimized Multi Atlas Segmentation). THOMAS was rigorously evaluated on 7T MRI data acquired from healthy volunteers and patients with multiple sclerosis by comparing against manual segmentations delineated by a neuroradiologist, guided by the Morel atlas. Segmentation accuracy was very high, with uniformly high Dice indices: at least 0.85 for large nuclei like the pulvinar and mediodorsal nuclei and at least 0.7 even for small structures such as the habenular, centromedian, and lateral and medial geniculate nuclei. Volume similarity indices ranged from 0.82 for the smaller nuclei to 0.97 for the larger nuclei. Volumetry revealed that the volumes of the right anteroventral, right ventral posterior lateral, and both right and left pulvinar nuclei were significantly lower in MS patients compared to controls, after adjusting for age, sex and intracranial volume. Lastly, we evaluated the potential of this method for targeting the Vim nucleus for deep brain surgery and focused ultrasound thalamotomy by overlaying the Vim nucleus segmented from pre-operative data on post-operative data. The locations of the ablated region and active DBS contact corresponded well with the segmented Vim nucleus. Our fast, direct structural MRI based segmentation method opens the door for MRI guided intra-operative procedures like thalamotomy and asleep DBS electrode placement as well as for accurate quantification of thalamic nuclear volumes to follow progression of neurological disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-282
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019


  • Multi-atlas segmentation
  • Thalamic nuclei
  • Thalamic parcellation
  • White matter nulled MP-RAGE

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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