Standard-space atlas of the viscoelastic properties of the human brain

Lucy V Hiscox, Matthew D J McGarry, Hillary Schwarb, Elijah E W Van Houten, Ryan T Pohlig, Neil Roberts, Graham R Huesmann, Agnieszka Z Burzynska, Bradley P Sutton, Charles H Hillman, Arthur F Kramer, Neal J Cohen, Aron K Barbey, Keith D Paulsen, Curtis L Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Standard anatomical atlases are common in neuroimaging because they facilitate data analyses and comparisons across subjects and studies. The purpose of this study was to develop a standardized human brain atlas based on the physical mechanical properties (i.e., tissue viscoelasticity) of brain tissue using magnetic resonance elastography (MRE). MRE is a phase contrast-based MRI method that quantifies tissue viscoelasticity noninvasively and in vivo thus providing a macroscopic representation of the microstructural constituents of soft biological tissue. The development of standardized brain MRE atlases are therefore beneficial for comparing neural tissue integrity across populations. Data from a large number of healthy, young adults from multiple studies collected using common MRE acquisition and analysis protocols were assembled (N = 134; 78F/ 56 M; 18-35 years). Nonlinear image registration methods were applied to normalize viscoelastic property maps (shear stiffness, μ, and damping ratio, ξ) to the MNI152 standard structural template within the spatial coordinates of the ICBM-152. We find that average MRE brain templates contain emerging and symmetrized anatomical detail. Leveraging the substantial amount of data assembled, we illustrate that subcortical gray matter structures, white matter tracts, and regions of the cerebral cortex exhibit differing mechanical characteristics. Moreover, we report sex differences in viscoelasticity for specific neuroanatomical structures, which has implications for understanding patterns of individual differences in health and disease. These atlases provide reference values for clinical investigations as well as novel biophysical signatures of neuroanatomy. The templates are made openly available ( to foster collaboration across research institutions and to support robust cross-center comparisons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5282-5300
Number of pages19
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number18
StatePublished - Dec 15 2020


  • brain atlases
  • viscoelasticity
  • MRI templates
  • mechanical properties
  • magnetic resonance elastography
  • magnetic resonance imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Anatomy


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