Improved markers for the progression of Parkinson's disease (PD) are required. Previous work has proven that iron dependent MRI scans can detect the largest Nigrosome (N1) within the substantia nigra (SN) pars compacta and changes in PD. Histopathological studies have shown that N1 is particularly affected in early PD whereas the other nigrosomes (N2–N5) and the surrounding iron-rich SN are affected later. In this study we aimed to determine whether MRI can detect the smaller nigrosomes (N2–N5) and whether graded signal alterations can be detected on T2*-weighted MRI at different disease stages consistent with histopathological changes. An observational prospective study was performed within the research imaging centre at the University of Nottingham, UK. Altogether 26 individuals with confirmed PD (median Hoehn&Yahr stage = 1, Unified PD Rating Scale [UPDRS] = 12.5) and 15 healthy controls participated. High resolution T2*weighted 7T MRI of the brain was performed and visibility of N1-N5 within the SN was qualitatively rated. Normalised T2*weighted signal intensities in manually segmented N1–N5 regions and iron-rich SN were calculated. We performed group comparisons and correlations with severity based on UPDRS. Qualitative measures were a nigrosome visibility score and a confidence score for identification. Quantitative measures were T2*weighted contrast of N1–5 and iron-rich SN relative to white matter. We found that visual assessment of the SN for N1–N5 revealed normal range visibility scores in 14 of 15 controls. N1 was identified with the highest confidence and visibility was in abnormal range in all 26 PD patients. The other nigrosomes were less well visible and less confidently identified. There was a larger PD induced signal reduction in all nigrosomes than in the iron-rich SN (median signal difference N1–5 PD compared to controls: 19.4% [IQR = 24%], iron-rich SN 11% [IQR = 24%, p = 0.017]). The largest PD induced signal reduction was in N1: 37.2% [IQR = 19%] which inversely correlated with UPDRS in PD (R2 = 0.19). All nigrosomes can be detected using 7T MRI, and PD induced T2*weighted signal reduction was greatest in the nigrosomes (especially N1). The graded T2*weighted signal alterations in the nigrosomes match previously described differential histopathological effects of PD. N1 was identified with the highest confidence and T2*weighted signal in N1 correlated with UPDRS confirming N1 as the most promising SN marker of PD pathology.
Schwarz, S. T., Mougin, O., Xing, Y., Blazejewska, A., Bajaj, N., Auer, D. P., & Gowland, P. (2018). Parkinson’s disease related signal change in the nigrosomes 1–5 and the substantia nigra using T2* weighted 7T MRI. NeuroImage: Clinical, 19, 683–689. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2018.05.027