Clinical Article

Acta Neurochirurgica

, Volume 152, Issue 2, pp 201-210

First online:

Assessment of the variability in the anatomical position and size of the subthalamic nucleus among patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease using magnetic resonance imaging

  • Slawomir DanilukAffiliated withDepartment of Neurosurgery, Boston University School of Medicine Email author 
  • , Keith G. DaviesAffiliated withDepartment of Neurosurgery, Boston University School of Medicine
  • , Samuel A. ElliasAffiliated withDepartment of Neurology, Boston University Medical Center
  • , Peter NovakAffiliated withDepartment of Neurology, University of Massachusetts Medical School
  • , Jules M. NazzaroAffiliated withDepartment of Neurosurgery, Kansas University Medical Center

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Targeting of the subthalamic nucleus (STN) during deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery using standard atlas coordinates is used in some centers. Such coordinates are accurate for only a subgroup of patients, and subgroup size depends on the extent of inter-individual variation in STN position/size and degree to which atlas represents average anatomical relations. Few studies have addressed this issue.


Sixty-two axial T2-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) images of the brain (1.5 T) were obtained before STN-DBS in 62 patients (37 males) with Parkinson’s disease using a protocol optimized for STN visualization. Image distortion was within sub-millimeter range. Midcommissural point (MCP)-derived coordinates of STN borders, STN center, and other brain landmarks were obtained using stereotactic software. MR-derived measurements were compared to Schaltenbrand and Wahren Atlas.


We evaluated 117 best-visualized STNs. STN dimensions and coordinates of its center were highly variable. STN lateral coordinate ranged 8.7 mm–14.5 mm from MCP, A-P coordinate 3.5 mm posterior to 0.5 mm anterior to MCP, and vertical coordinate 1.3 mm–6 mm below MCP. The antero-posterior nucleus dimension varied by 8 mm and lateral-medial dimension by 5.8 mm. Differences between mean values of MR-derived data sets and Atlas values were statistically significant but moderate, excluding AC-PC length, for which the Atlas value was below the 1st percentile of the MR data set. The STN lateral coordinate strongly correlated with the width of the third ventricle (r = 0.73, p < 0.001).


It is now possible to directly evaluate STNs at 1.5 T with minimal image distortion, which reveals variation in STN position and dimensions in the range of nucleus size. This puts under question the rationale of use of standard STN coordinates during DBS surgery.


Deep brain stimulation Inter-individual variation MRI-based direct targeting Parkinson’s disease STN atlas coordinates