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The acquisition of MRI and histology in the same post-mortem tissue sample enables direct correlation between MRI and histologically-derived parameters. However, there still lacks a standardised automated pipeline to process histology data, with most studies relying on manual intervention. Here, we introduce an automated pipeline to extract a quantitative histological measure for staining density (stain area fraction, SAF) from multiple immunohistochemical (IHC) stains. The pipeline is designed to directly address key IHC artefacts related to tissue staining and slide digitisation. Here, the pipeline was applied to post-mortem human brain data from multiple subjects, relating MRI parameters (FA, MD, RD, AD, R2*, R1) to IHC slides stained for myelin, neurofilaments, microglia and activated microglia. Utilising high-quality MRI-histology co-registrations, we then performed whole-slide voxelwise comparisons (simple correlations, partial correlations and multiple regression analyses) between multimodal MRI- and IHC-derived parameters. The pipeline was found to be reproducible, robust to artefacts and generalisable across multiple IHC stains. Our partial correlation results suggest that some simple MRI-SAF correlations should be interpreted with caution, due to the co-localisation of other tissue features (e.g., myelin and neurofilaments). Further, we find activated microglia-a generic biomarker of inflammation-to consistently be the strongest predictor of high DTI FA and low RD, which may suggest sensitivity of diffusion MRI to aspects of neuroinflammation related to microglial activation, even after accounting for other microstructural changes (demyelination, axonal loss and general microglia infiltration). Together, these results show the utility of this approach in carefully curating IHC data and performing multimodal analyses to better understand microstructural relationships with MRI.

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MRI-histology, Microstructure, Multimodal MRI, Post-mortem, Validation