“The gain in brain is mainly in the stain” was long time a key sentence for research in neurodegenerative disease. However, for a quantification of the element concentrations (especially iron) in brain tissue, standard staining methods are insufficient. Advanced physical methods allow a quantitative elemental analysis of brain tissue. The sophisticated ion beam analysis provides a quantitative determination of elemental concentrations with a subcellular spatial resolution using a scanning proton beam focussed down to below 1μm that induces characteristic X-rays in the specimen (PIXE – particle induced X-ray emission). Histochemical and biochemical determinations of total iron content in brain regions from idiopathic Parkinson’s disease have demonstrated an increase of iron in parkinsonian substantia nigra pars compacta but not in the pars reticulata, however without a clear cellular classification. For the first time, we have differentially investigated the intra- and extraneuronal elemental concentrations (especially iron) of the human substantia nigra pars compacta versus pars reticulata with detection limits in the range of 50μmol/l. Thus, we could compare the neuronal iron concentration in human brain sections of healthy and parkinsonian brain tissue. Clear differences in the iron concentration and distribution could be disclosed. Additionally, we could show in situ that the increased intraneuronal iron content is linked to neuromelanin.
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