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Quadruple-MRI Technique Tracks Parkinson’s

November 29, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Combining four different types of MRI, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge have for the first time shown the effects of Parkinson’s disease on two structures in the interior of the brain.

Parkinson’s, which affects 1 percent to 2 percent of people older than 65, gradually destroys brain cells that control movement. In 2004, German anatomist Heiko Braak, MD, suggested that the disease starts deep within the brain and progresses outward. The first structure involved, he said, was the substantia nigra, followed by the basal forebrain.

It took a while to confirm that theory because the substantia nigra lies so deep within the brain that it’s difficult to image. The MIT team used four types of scans, each involving slightly different magnetic fields, then combined the scans into clear composite images of the two structures.

Suzanne Corkin, PhD, who led the research team, explained:

This progression has never been shown in living people, and that’s what was special about this study. With our new imaging methods, we can see these structures more clearly than anyone had seen them before.

Dr. Corkin, professor emerita of neuroscience, was quoted in an MIT news release.

The researchers indeed found significant loss of volume in the substantia nigra first, then in the basal forebrain. Joel Perlmutter, MD, a professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who was not involved with the study, said the changes appear to correlate with symptoms of Parkinson’s.

“This suggests that two different systems of the brain—one dopaminergic and associated with motor control, and one cholinergic and associated with cognitive function—have different timing,” Dr. Perlmutter said.

The MRI technique could help tease out the still mysterious cause, or causes, of Parkinson’s and might help evaluate new treatments, among other things. The researchers detailed their findings in an article published online this week in Archives of Neurology.

Related seminar: UCSF Neuro and Musculoskeletal Imaging

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