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Age-related magnetic susceptibility changes in deep grey matter and cerebral cortex of normal young and middle-aged adults depicted by whole brain analysis

  • Burgetova, Romana1, 2
  • Dusek, Petr1, 1
  • Burgetova, Andrea1
  • Pudlac, Adam1
  • Vaneckova, Manuela1
  • Horakova, Dana1
  • Krasensky, Jan1
  • Varga, Zsoka1
  • Lambert, Lukas1
  • 1 Charles University and General University Hospital in Prague, Prague
  • 2 Charles University and University Hospital Královské Vinohrady, Prague
Published Article
Quantitative Imaging in Medicine and Surgery
AME Publishing Company
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2021
DOI: 10.21037/qims-21-87
PMID: 34476177
PMCID: PMC8339659
PubMed Central
  • Original Article


Background Iron accumulates in brain tissue in healthy subjects during aging. Our goal was to conduct a detailed analysis of iron deposition patterns in the cerebral deep grey matter and cortex using region-based and whole-brain analyses of brain magnetic susceptibility. Methods Brain MRI was performed in 95 healthy individuals aged between 21 and 58 years on a 3T scanner. MRI protocol included T1-weighted (T1W) magnetization-prepared rapid acquisition with gradient echo images and 3D flow-compensated multi-echo gradient-echo images for quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM). In the region-based analysis, QSM and T1W images entered an automated multi-atlas segmentation pipeline and regional mean bulk susceptibility values were calculated. The whole-brain analysis included a non-linear transformation of QSM images to the standard MNI template. For the whole-brain analysis voxel-wise maps of linear regression slopes β and P values were calculated. Regional masks of cortical voxels with a significant association between susceptibility and age were created and further analyzed. Results In cortical regions, the highest increase of susceptibility values with age was found in areas involved in motor functions (precentral and postcentral areas, premotor cortex), in cognitive processing (prefrontal cortex, superior temporal gyrus, insula, precuneus), and visual processing (occipital gyri, cuneus, posterior cingulum, fusiform, calcarine and lingual gyrus). Thalamic susceptibility increased until the fourth decade and decreased thereafter with the exception of the pulvinar where susceptibility increase was observed throughout the adult lifespan. Deep grey matter structures with the highest increase of susceptibility values with age included the red nucleus, putamen, substantia nigra, dentate nucleus, external globus pallidus, caudate nucleus, and the subthalamic nucleus in decreasing order. Conclusions Accumulation of iron in basal ganglia follows a linear pattern whereas in the thalamus, pulvinar, precentral cortex, and precuneus, it follows a quadratic or exponential pattern. Age-related changes of iron content are different in the pulvinar and the rest of the thalamus as well as in internal and external globus pallidus. In the cortex, areas involved in motor and cognitive functions and visual processing show the highest iron increase with aging. We suggest that the departure from normal patterns of regional brain iron trajectories during aging may be helpful in the detection of subtle neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory processes.

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