To evaluate the effect of resolution on iron content using quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM); to verify the consistency of QSM across field strengths and manufacturers in evaluating the iron content of deep gray matter (DGM) of the human brain using subjects from multiple sites; and to establish a susceptibility baseline as a function of age for each DGM structure using both a global and regional iron analysis.
Data from 623 healthy adults, ranging from 20 to 90 years old, were collected across 3 sites using gradient echo imaging on one 1.5 Tesla and two 3.0 Tesla MR scanners. Eight subcortical gray matter nuclei were semi-automatically segmented using a full-width half maximum threshold-based analysis of the QSM data. Mean susceptibility, volume and total iron content with age correlations were evaluated for each measured structure for both the whole-region and RII (high iron content regions) analysis. For the purpose of studying the effect of resolution on QSM, a digitized model of the brain was applied.
The mean susceptibilities of the caudate nucleus (CN), globus pallidus (GP) and putamen (PUT) were not significantly affected by changing the slice thickness from 0.5 to 3 mm. But for small structures, the susceptibility was reduced by 10% for 2 mm thick slices. For global analysis, the mean susceptibility correlated positively with age for the CN, PUT, red nucleus (RN), substantia nigra (SN), and dentate nucleus (DN). There was a negative correlation with age in the thalamus (THA). The volumes of most nuclei were negatively correlated with age. Apart from the GP, THA, and pulvinar thalamus (PT), all the other structures showed an increasing total iron content despite the reductions in volume with age. For the RII regional high iron content analysis, mean susceptibility in most of the structures was moderately to strongly correlated with age. Similar to the global analysis, apart from the GP, THA, and PT, all structures showed an increasing total iron content.
A reasonable estimate for age-related iron behavior can be obtained from a large cross site, cross manufacturer set of data when high enough resolutions are used. These estimates can be used for correcting for age related iron changes when studying diseases like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other iron related neurodegenerative diseases.