BACKGROUND: Accurate registration between microscopy and MRI data is necessary for validating imaging biomarkers against neuropathology, and to disentangle complex signal dependencies in microstructural MRI. Existing registration methods often rely on serial histological sampling or significant manual input, providing limited scope to work with a large number of stand-alone histology sections. Here we present a customisable pipeline to assist the registration of stand-alone histology sections to whole-brain MRI data. METHODS: Our pipeline registers stained histology sections to whole-brain post-mortem MRI in 4 stages, with the help of two photographic intermediaries: a block face image (to undistort histology sections) and coronal brain slab photographs (to insert them into MRI space). Each registration stage is implemented as a configurable stand-alone Python script using our novel platform, Tensor Image Registration Library (TIRL), which provides flexibility for wider adaptation. We report our experience of registering 87 PLP-stained histology sections from 14 subjects and perform various experiments to assess the accuracy and robustness of each stage of the pipeline. RESULTS: All 87 histology sections were successfully registered to MRI. Histology-to-block registration (Stage 1) achieved 0.2-0.4 mm accuracy, better than commonly used existing methods. Block-to-slice matching (Stage 2) showed great robustness in automatically identifying and inserting small tissue blocks into whole brain slices with 0.2 mm accuracy. Simulations demonstrated sub-voxel level accuracy (0.13 mm) of the slice-to-volume registration (Stage 3) algorithm, which was observed in over 200 actual brain slice registrations, compensating 3D slice deformations up to 6.5 mm. Stage 4 combined the previous stages and generated refined pixelwise aligned multi-modal histology-MRI stacks. CONCLUSIONS: Our open-source pipeline provides robust automation tools for registering stand-alone histology sections to MRI data with sub-voxel level precision, and the underlying framework makes it readily adaptable to a diverse range of microscopy-MRI studies.
Brain, Histology, Human, MRI, Post-mortem, Registration, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Brain, Neuroimaging, Histological Techniques, Autopsy, Imaging, Three-Dimensional