Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 219, Issue 1, pp 1–22 | Cite as

A systematic review of brain frontal lobe parcellation techniques in magnetic resonance imaging

  • Simon R. Cox
  • Karen J. Ferguson
  • Natalie A. Royle
  • Susan D. Shenkin
  • Sarah E. MacPherson
  • Alasdair M. J. MacLullich
  • Ian J. Deary
  • Joanna M. Wardlaw


Manual volumetric measurement of the brain’s frontal lobe and its subregions from magnetic resonance images (MRIs) is an established method for researching neural correlates of clinical disorders or cognitive functions. However, there is no consensus between methods used to identify relevant boundaries of a given region of interest (ROI) on MRIs, and those used may bear little relation to each other or the underlying structural, functional and connective architecture. This presents challenges for the analysis and synthesis of such results. We therefore performed a systematic literature review to highlight variations in the anatomical boundaries used to measure frontal regions, contextualised by up-to-date evidence from histology, hodology and neuropsychology. We searched EMBASE and MEDLINE for studies in English reporting three-dimensional boundaries for manually delineating the brain’s frontal lobe or sub-regional ROIs from MRIs. Exclusion criteria were: exclusive use of co-ordinate grid systems; insufficient detail to allow method replication; publication in grey literature only. Papers were assessed on quality criteria relating to bias, reproducibility and protocol rationale. There was a large degree of variability in the three-dimensional boundaries of all regions used by the 208 eligible papers. Half of the reports did not justify their rationale for boundary selection, and each paper met on average only three quarters of quality criteria. For the frontal lobe and each subregion (frontal pole, anterior cingulate, dorsolateral, inferior-lateral, and orbitofrontal) we identified reproducible methods for a biologically plausible target ROI. It is hoped that this synthesis will guide the design of future volumetric studies of cerebral structure.


Frontal Cortex Parcellation Segmentation MRI Cytoarchitecture 



We are grateful to Sheila Fisken for her consultation on search strategy development (Liaison Librarian for Edinburgh University Medical School), and to David A. Dickie for the use of his brain MRI for figures. We are also grateful to the reviewers for their detailed and constructive suggestions for improving the manuscript. The work was undertaken by the University of Edinburgh in the Brain Research Imaging Centre (—part of the SINAPSE collaboration) and the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (—part of the cross council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Initiative, G0700704/84698). Funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, and from the Scottish Founding Council through the SINAPSE collaboration ( is gratefully acknowledged.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

429_2013_527_MOESM1_ESM.xls (246 kb)
Online Resource 1 Excel spreadsheet of all reviewed parcellation methods. Bold horizontal dividers identify groups of papers that use broadly the same protocol, starting with the paper in which the cited method originated. Details of the sample, acquisition hardware, sub-regional boundaries and quality scores are included (XLS 247 kb)
429_2013_527_MOESM2_ESM.doc (96 kb)
Online Resource 2 Complete references of all reviewed protocols (DOC 95 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon R. Cox
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Karen J. Ferguson
    • 2
    • 4
  • Natalie A. Royle
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
  • Susan D. Shenkin
    • 2
    • 4
  • Sarah E. MacPherson
    • 2
    • 3
  • Alasdair M. J. MacLullich
    • 2
    • 4
    • 6
  • Ian J. Deary
    • 2
    • 3
  • Joanna M. Wardlaw
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
  1. 1.Brain Research Imaging CentreUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  2. 2.Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive EpidemiologyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  4. 4.Geriatric MedicineUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  5. 5.Scottish Imaging Network, a Platform for Scientific Excellence (SINAPSE) CollaborationEdinburghUK
  6. 6.Endocrinology UnitUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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