Science + Technology

MRI Study Findings Open Door to Assessing, Preventing Brain Iron Levels Associated With Neurodegenerative Diseases


A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study at UCLA opens newdoors to assessing and potentially preventing brain iron accumulationassociated with risk of developing degenerative brain diseases such asAlzheimer's, Parkinson's and Dementia With LewyBodies.

Posted as an early online publication of the peer-reviewedjournal Neurobiology of Aging, this largest-everstudy of brain iron demonstrates gender difference in brain iron levels for thefirst time. Until now, researchers had considered the brain blood barrier asprotection against accumulating too much iron from the body. The findingsuggests instead that age-related brain iron accumulation is a modifiable riskfactor for degenerative brain diseases.

In addition, the study finds a nearly perfect correlationbetween iron levels in various brain regions of study participants measuredusing MRI and those reported by past post-mortem studies. The findingdemonstrates the ability of MRI analysis to accurately measure iron levels inbrain tissues of living patients.

Previous studies have shown that high accumulation of ironin brain tissue causes oxidative damage and formation of plaques found inage-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer disease. In addition,past population studies show men develop such diseases about five years earlierthan women but brain iron levels increase with age in both genders.

"If you can measure it and learn how to modify it, then youcan fix it," said Dr. George Bartzokis,lead author and professor of neurology at the David Geffen School ofMedicine at UCLA. "Alzheimer disease rates double every five years after age60, so a modifiable risk factor assessed by non-invasive means may representpotential interventions that could halve the number of cases of AD in the United States."

The UCLA team measured iron stored in ferritinmolecules in the brain tissues of living subjects with MRI by using the FieldDependent Relaxation Rate Increase (FDRI) method. Iron was measured in four subcortical tissues, three white matter regions and thehippocampus of 165 healthy adults, ages 19 to 82.

In addition to the nearly perfect correlation betweenpublished post-mortem brain iron levels and those measured by FDRI, the studyfound that men have significantly higher ferritin iron than women in two subcortical regions and all three white matter regions.

The team also found significant age-related increases in ferritin iron in the hippocampus and three of the four subcortical regions, and decreases in one white matterregion.

The study was supported by the National Institute of MentalHealth, the National Institute on Aging Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, the CaliforniaDepartment of Health Services, the Sidell-KaganFoundation and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Bartzokis is professor ofneurology, director of the UCLA Memory Disorders Clinic, director of theClinical Core of the UCLA Alzheimer Disease Research Centerand faculty member at the UCLA Laboratory of NeuroImaging.

The UCLA Department of Neurology encompasses more than adozen research, clinical and teaching programs. Theseprograms cover brain mapping and neuroimaging,movement disorders, Alzheimer disease, multiple sclerosis, neurogenetics,nerve and muscle disorders, epilepsy, neuro-oncology,neurotology, neuropsychology,headaches and migraines, neurorehabilitation, andneurovascular disorders. The department ranks No. 2 among its peers nationwidein National Institutes of Health funding. For more information, see

The UCLA Alzheimer Disease Research Center (ADRC), directedby Dr. Jeffrey L. Cummings, is funded by the National Institute on Aging, the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center of California grant and the Sidell‑KaganFoundation. For more information, see

The UCLA Memory DisordersClinic and the Clinical Core of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center evaluateindividuals over the age of 45 who are experiencing mild but graduallyprogressing cognitive or memory declines that are unrelated to other braindiseases such as strokes, tumors, infection, metabolic abnormalities,psychiatric disease or trauma. For information, call (310) 825-1817.



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