The influence of brain iron and myelin on magnetic susceptibility and effective transverse relaxation - A biochemical and histological validation study

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Abstract

Quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM) and effective transverse relaxation rate (R2*) mapping are both highly sensitive to variations in brain iron content. Clinical Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) studies report changes of susceptibilities and relaxation rates in various neurological diseases which are often equated with changes in regional brain iron content. However, these mentioned metrics lack specificity for iron, since they are also influenced by the presence of myelin. In this study, we assessed the extent to which QSM and R2* reflect iron concentration as well as histological iron and myelin intensities. Six unfixed human post-mortem brains were imaged in situ with a 7 T MRI scanner. After formalin fixation, the brains were sliced axially and punched. 671 tissue punches were subjected to ferrozine iron quantification. Subsequently, brain slices were embedded in paraffin, and histological double-hemispheric axial brain slices were stained for Luxol fast blue (myelin) and diaminobenzidine (DAB)-enhanced Turnbull blue (iron). 3331 regions of interest (ROIs) were drawn on the histological stainings to assess myelin and iron intensities, which were compared with MRI data in corresponding ROIs. QSM more closely reflected quantitative ferrozine iron values (r = 0.755 vs. 0.738), whereas R2* correlated better with iron staining intensities (r = 0.619 vs. 0.445). Myelin intensities correlated negatively with QSM (r = −0.352), indicating a diamagnetic effect of myelin on susceptibility. Myelin intensities were higher in the thalamus than in the basal ganglia. A significant relationship was nonetheless observed between quantitative iron values and QSM, confirming the applicability of the latter in this brain region for iron quantification.

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