Neuromelanin-sensitive magnetic resonance imaging in the study of mental disorder: A systematic review

Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging. 2024 Apr:339:111785. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2024.111785. Epub 2024 Jan 26.


Dopamine and norepinephrine are implicated in the pathophysiology of mental disorders, but non-invasive study of their neuronal function remains challenging. Recent research suggests that neuromelanin-sensitive magnetic resonance imaging (NM-MRI) techniques may overcome this limitation by enabling the non-invasive imaging of the substantia nigra (SN)/ ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopaminergic and locus coeruleus (LC) noradrenergic systems. A review of 19 studies that met the criteria for NM-MRI application in mental disorders found that despite the use of heterogeneous sequence parameters and metrics, nearly all studies reported differences in contrast ratio (CNR) of LC or SN/VTA between patients with mental disorders and healthy controls. These findings suggest that NM-MRI is a valuable tool in psychiatry, but the differences in sequence parameters across studies hinder comparability, and a standardized analysis pipeline is needed to improve the reliability of results. Further research using standardized methods is needed to better understand the role of dopamine and norepinephrine in mental disorders.

Keywords: Dopamine; Locus coeruleus; Mental disorders; Neuromelanin-sensitive magnetic resonance imaging; Substantia nigra.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dopamine*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Melanins*
  • Mental Disorders* / diagnostic imaging
  • Norepinephrine
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • neuromelanin
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine
  • Melanins