Elevated Brain Iron in Cocaine Use Disorder as Indexed by Magnetic Field Correlation Imaging

Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging. 2019 Jun;4(6):579-588. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2018.11.006. Epub 2018 Nov 22.


Background: Iron homeostasis is a critical biological process that may be disrupted in cocaine use disorder (CUD). In the brain, iron is required for neural processes involved in addiction and can be lethal to cells if unbound, especially in excess. Moreover, recent studies have implicated elevated brain iron in conditions of prolonged psychostimulant exposure. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine iron in basal ganglia reward regions of individuals with CUD using an advanced imaging method called magnetic field correlation (MFC) imaging.

Methods: MFC imaging was acquired in 19 non-treatment-seeking individuals with CUD and 19 healthy control individuals (both male and female). Region-of-interest analyses for MFC group differences and within-group correlations with age and years of cocaine use were conducted in the globus pallidus internal segment (GPi), globus pallidus external segment, putamen, caudate nucleus, thalamus, and red nucleus.

Results: Individuals with CUD had significantly elevated MFC compared with control individuals within the GPi. In control individuals, MFC significantly increased with age in the GPi, globus pallidus external segment, putamen, and caudate nucleus. Conversely, there were no significant MFC within-group correlations in the CUD group.

Conclusions: Individuals with CUD have excess iron in the GPi, as indexed by MFC, and lack the age-related gradual iron deposition seen in normal aging. Because the globus pallidus is critical for the transition of goal-directed behavior to compulsive behavior, significantly elevated iron in the GPi may contribute to the persistence of CUD. These findings implicate dysregulation of brain iron homeostasis in CUD and support pursuing this new line of research.

Keywords: Addiction; Brain iron; Cocaine use disorder; Ferroptosis; Magnetic field correlation imaging; Psychostimulants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / metabolism
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Iron / analysis*
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods*


  • Iron