Computing volume header data with freesurferformats

In this document, we show how to derive various data from the header of FreeSurfer brain volume files.

About the MGH header

The header of MGH (or MGZ) brain volume files can contain important information on the volume data, including orientation, slice thickness, and MR acquisition parameters. The freesurferformats package provides functions to compute important properties from the header.

Getting access to the header data in MGH or MGZ files

When reading a brain volume, make sure you explicitely request the full data, including the header:

    mgh_file = system.file("extdata", "brain.mgz", package = "freesurferformats", mustWork = TRUE);
    brain = read.fs.mgh(mgh_file, with_header = TRUE);

This will give you an fs.volume instance, which is very handy. To see the header information, just type the variable name to print it:

Brain volume with 4 dimensions '256x256x256x1' and 16777216 voxels.
 - Data dimensions according to header: '256x256x256x1'.
 - Datatype according to header is 0 ('MRI_UCHAR'), values are in range [0.00, 156.00].
 - Header contains vox2ras transformation information. Voxel size is 1.00 x 1.00 x 1.00 mm.
 - Volume is conformed, pimary slice direction is 'coronal', orientation is 'LIA'.
 - Header contains MR acquisition parameters: TR: 2300.00 msec, TE: 2.01 msec, TI: 900.00 msec, flip angle: 9.00 degrees, fov = 256.000.

You can access the volume data in brain$data and the header in brain$header now.

Computing more information from the header

Not all MGH files contain a valid header that can be used to compute more information. To check your data, use the function:$header);

If the header is valid, it can be used to compute various transformation matrices. Here is an example that computes the vox2ras matrix and then uses it to get the right, anterior, superior (RAS) coordinates of the voxel at column, row, slice (CRS) index (128, 128, 128):

voxel = c(128, 128, 128);
vox2ras = mghheader.vox2ras(brain);
ras_coords = vox2ras %*% c(voxel, 1);  # the 1 is because we use homogeneous coordinates

Transformation matrices

You can use the following functions in the same way to compute various matrices:

Primary slice direction and volume CRS orientation

To get the primary slice direction:


To get the orientation string for the 3 axes:;

Check whether the volume is conformed

To check whether the volume is conformed:;

A volume is considered conformed if it is in coronal primary slice direction, has CRS dimensions 256x256x256 and a voxel size of 1 mm in all 3 directions.