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MRI Implicates Iron Buildup In Alzheimer’s

August 23, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Neuroradiology
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Sophisticated MRI techniques indicate that iron accumulation may play a role in causing Alzheimer’s disease.

George Bartzokis, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, has long suspected that the brain damage that causes Alzheimer’s begins long before the appearance of the beta-amyloid plaques for which the disease has come to be known.

Dr. Bartzokis is senior author of a study, reported in the August edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, that used MRI to measure iron in the brain. Specifically, the researchers looked at the hippocampus, which is damaged early in the progression of Alzheimer’s, and the thalamus, which is generally not affected until the disease’s late stages.

A UCLA news release quoted Dr. Bartzokis as saying:

It is difficult to measure iron in tissue when the tissue is already damaged. But the MRI technology we used in this study allowed us to determine that the increase in iron is occurring together with the tissue damage.

The researchers examined 31 patients with Alzheimer’s and 68 healthy control subjects. “We found that the amount of iron is increased in the hippocampus and is associated with tissue damage in patients with Alzheimer’s but not in the healthy older individuals—or in the thalamus,” Dr. Bartzokis said. “So the results suggest that iron accumulation may indeed contribute to the cause of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The good news is that the research may indicate ways to avoid Alzheimer’s. “The accumulation of iron in the brain may be influenced by modifying environmental factors,” Dr. Bartzokis said, “such as how much red meat and iron dietary supplements we consume and, in women, having hysterectomies before menopause.”

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