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Scaling of brain compartments to brain size

Jäncke, Lutza; Liem, Franza,b; Merillat, Susana,b

doi: 10.1097/WNR.0000000000001249

In this study, we examine the relationship between total brain volume (BV) and the volumes of several main brain compartmental (BC) measures (cortical thickness, cortical surface area, corpus callosum, cortical gray matter, normal appearing cerebral white matter (NAWM), amygdala, accumbens, caudate, hippocampus, putamen, pallidum, thalamus, cerebellar gray matter, and cerebellar WM) of physically and cognitively healthy elderly individuals (mean age: 71 years, age range: 65–85 years). The statistical analysis uncovered extremely different relationships between total BV and the aforementioned BC metrics. These relationships ranged from extremely strong (BV explaining 85% of the variability of cerebral WM volume) to a very small relationship (for the caudate volume and the cortical thickness). In addition, cerebral WM and the accumbens volumes scaled out of proportion with BV, whereas most other BC measures scaled less than proportional to BV. Thus, larger brains exhibit relatively larger cerebral NAWM and accumbens volumes than do smaller brains. Cortical gray matter (and most other BC measures), on the other hand, relatively decreases as BV increases, resulting in relatively small cortical gray matter volumes (and relatively small BC measures) for large brains. These relationships are discussed within the context of general allometric scaling principles for the human brain. In addition, possible methodological consequences of analyzing anatomical data on the basis of MRI measurements are also discussed.

aDivision Neuropsychology, Institute of Psychology

bUniversity Research Priority Program ‘Dynamics of Healthy Aging’, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Correspondence to Lutz Jäncke, PhD, Institute of Psychology, Division Neuropsychology, University of Zurich, Binzmühlestrasse 14/25, CH-8050 Zurich, Switzerland Tel: +41 446 357 400; fax: +41 446 357 409; e-mail:

Received March 19, 2019

Accepted March 20, 2019

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