Introduction: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to identify biomarkers in Parkinson's disease (PD); R2* values reflect iron content related to high levels of oxidative stress, whereas volume and/or shape changes reflect neuronal death. We sought to assess iron overload in the nigrostriatal system and characterize its relationship with focal and overall atrophy of the striatum in the pivotal stages of PD.
Methods: Twenty controls and 70 PD patients at different disease stages (untreated de novo patients, treated early-stage patients and advanced-stage patients with L-dopa-related motor complications) were included in the study. We determined the R2* values in the substantia nigra, putamen and caudate nucleus, together with striatal volume and shape analysis. We also measured R2* in an acute MPTP mouse model and in a longitudinal follow-up two years later in the early-stage PD patients.
Results: The R2* values in the substantia nigra, putamen and caudate nucleus were significantly higher in de novo PD patients than in controls. Early-stage patients displayed significantly higher R2* values in the substantia nigra (with changes in striatal shape), relative to de novo patients. Measurements after a two-year follow-up in early-stage patients and characterization of the acute MPTP mouse model confirmed that R2* changed rapidly with disease progression. Advanced-stage patients displayed significant atrophy of striatum, relative to earlier disease stages.
Conclusion: Each pivotal stage in PD appears to be characterized by putative nigrostriatal MRI biomarkers: iron overload at the de novo stage, striatal shape changes at early-stage disease and generalized striatal atrophy at advanced disease.