Most studies of brain iron relied on the effect of the iron on magnetic resonance (MR) relaxation properties, such as R2∗, and bulk tissue magnetic susceptibility, as measured by quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM). The present study exploited the dependence of R2∗ and magnetic susceptibility on physical interactions at different length-scales to retrieve information about the tissue microenvironment, rather than the iron concentration. We introduce a method for the simultaneous analysis of brain tissue magnetic susceptibility and R2∗ that aims to isolate those biophysical mechanisms of R2∗ -contrast that are associated with the micro- and mesoscopic distribution of iron, referred to as the Iron Microstructure Coefficient (IMC). The present study hypothesized that changes in the deep gray matter (DGM) magnetic microenvironment associated with aging and pathological mechanisms of multiple sclerosis (MS), such as changes of the distribution and chemical form of the iron, manifest in quantifiable contributions to the IMC. To validate this hypothesis, we analyzed the voxel-based association between R2∗ and magnetic susceptibility in different DGM regions of 26 patients with multiple sclerosis and 33 age- and sex-matched normal controls. Values of the IMC varied significantly between anatomical regions, were reduced in the dentate and increased in the caudate of patients compared to controls, and decreased with normal aging, most strongly in caudate, globus pallidus and putamen.
Keywords: Brain iron; Magnetic susceptibility; Microstructure; Multiple sclerosis; QSM; Relaxation rate.
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