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Researchers Analyze Brain Iron Levels to Predict Severity of Symptoms in MS Patients

MRI has been vital to detecting the early stages of multiple sclerosis (MS). Yet now, researchers have discovered a way to use the imaging practice to predict the severity of a MS patient’s symptoms.

In a study recently published in Radiology, a group of researchers led by Robert Zivadinov, MD, PhD, professor of neurology at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo, describe how they use Quantitative Susceptibility Mapping (QSM) to identify iron levels in different parts of the brain in both patients with MS and those who didn’t have the condition. This was the first-ever study that reported this type of contrast in iron levels, and prior to this research, brain atrophy had been the standard to predicting symptom severity in MS patients. However, according to Dr. Zivadinov, there is only so much that can be assessed with atrophy, and it “takes a long time to see,” he said. “We need an earlier measure of who will develop MS-related disability.”

The researchers evaluated a total of 600 patients with MS, 452 of whom were in the early stages of the disease, 148 whose symptoms had progressed, and a control group of 250 healthy participants. They found that people with MS had higher iron levels in the basal ganglia, a part of the brain associated with motor control, and lower levels in the thalamus, the relay site for most sensory pathways. These markers indicate longer disease longevity and progression and more disability. The researchers concluded that decreased iron also demonstrated higher levels of clinical disability.

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