Substantia nigra neuromelanin magnetic resonance imaging in patients with different subtypes of Parkinson disease

J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2021 Feb;128(2):171-179. doi: 10.1007/s00702-020-02295-8. Epub 2021 Feb 9.


Neuromelanin (NM) is a dark pigment that mainly exists in neurons of the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc). In Parkinson disease (PD) patients, NM concentration decreases gradually with degeneration and necrosis of dopamine neurons, suggesting potential use as a PD biomarker. We aimed to evaluate associations between NM concentration in in vivo SN and PD progression and different motor subtypes using NM magnetic resonance imaging (NM-MRI). Fifty-four patients with idiopathic PD were enrolled. Patients were divided into groups by subtypes with different clinical symptoms: tremor dominant (TD) group and postural instability and gait difficulty (PIGD) group. Fifteen healthy age-matched volunteers were enrolled as controls. All subjects underwent clinical assessment and NM-MRI examination. PD patients showed significantly decreased contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) values in medial and lateral SN (P < 0.05) compared to controls. CNR values in lateral SN region decreased linearly with PD progression (P = 0.001). PIGD patients showed significant decreases in CNR mean values in lateral SN compared to TD patients (P = 0.004). Diagnostic accuracy of using lateral substantia nigra (SN) in TD and PIGD groups was 79% (sensitivity 76.5%, specificity 78.6%). NM concentration in PD patients decreases gradually during disease progression and differs significantly between PD subtypes. NM may be a reliable biomarker for PD severity and subtype identification.

Keywords: Magnetic resonance imaging; Motor subtypes; Neuromelanin; Parkinson disease.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Melanins
  • Parkinson Disease* / diagnostic imaging
  • Substantia Nigra / diagnostic imaging


  • Melanins
  • neuromelanin