Imaging iron stores in the brain using magnetic resonance imaging
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For the last century, there has been great physiological interest in brain iron and its role in brain function and disease. It is well known that iron accumulates in the brain for people with Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic hemorrhage, cerebral infarction, anemia, thalassemia, hemochromatosis, Hallervorden-Spatz, Down syndrome, AIDS and in the eye for people with macular degeneration. Measuring the amount of nonheme iron in the body may well lead to not only a better understanding of the disease progression but an ability to predict outcome. As there are many forms of iron in the brain, separating them and quantifying each type have been a major challenge. In this review, we present our understanding of attempts to measure brain iron and the potential of doing so with magnetic resonance imaging. Specifically, we examine the response of the magnetic resonance visible iron in tissue that produces signal changes in both magnitude and phase images. These images seem to correlate with brain iron content, perhaps ferritin specifically, but still have not been successfully exploited to accurately and precisely quantify brain iron. For future quantitative studies of iron content we propose four methods: correlating R2' and phase to iron content; applying a special filter to the phase to obtain a susceptibility map; using complex analysis to extract the product of susceptibility and volume content of the susceptibility source; and using early and late echo information to separately predict susceptibility and volume content.
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