The thalamic ventral intermediate nucleus (VIM) can be targeted for treatment of tremor by several procedures, including deep brain stimulation (DBS) and, more recently, MR-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS). To date, such targeting has relied predominantly on coordinate-based or atlas-based techniques rather than directly targeting the VIM based on imaging features. While general regional differences of features within the thalamus and some related white matter tracts can be distinguished with conventional imaging techniques, internal nuclei such as the VIM are not discretely visualized. Advanced imaging methods such as quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM) and fast gray matter acquisition T1 inversion recovery (FGATIR) MRI and high-field MRI pulse sequences that improve the ability to image the VIM region are emerging but have not yet been shown to have reliability and accuracy to serve as the primary method of VIM targeting. Currently, the most promising imaging approach to directly identify the VIM region for clinical purposes is MR diffusion tractography.
In this review and update, the capabilities and limitations of conventional and emerging advanced methods for evaluation of internal thalamic anatomy are briefly reviewed. The basic principles of tractography most relevant to VIM targeting are provided for familiarization. Next, the key literature to date addressing applications of DTI and tractography for DBS and MRgFUS is summarized, emphasizing use of direct targeting. This literature includes 1-tract (dentatorubrothalamic tract [DRT]), 2-tract (pyramidal and somatosensory), and 3-tract (DRT, pyramidal, and somatosensory) approaches to VIM region localization through tractography.
The authors introduce a 3-tract technique used at their institution, illustrating the oblique curved course of the DRT within the inferior thalamus as well as the orientation and relationship of the white matter tracts in the axial plane. The utility of this 3-tract tractography approach to facilitate VIM localization is illustrated with case examples of variable VIM location, targeting superior to the anterior commissure–posterior commissure plane, and treatment in the setting of pathologic derangement of thalamic anatomy. Finally, concepts demonstrated with these case examples and from the prior literature are synthesized to highlight several potential advantages of tractography for VIM region targeting.