Sullivan, E.V., Adalsteinsson, E., Rohlfing, T. et al. Relevance of Iron Deposition in Deep Gray Matter Brain Structures to Cognitive and Motor Performance in Healthy Elderly Men and Women: Exploratory Findings. Brain Imaging and Behavior 3, 167–175 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-008-9059-7
Iron deposition increases in normal aging, has its greatest presence in structures of the extrapyramidal system, and may contribute to functional decline. MR imaging provides a method for indexing iron deposition in brain structures because of iron’s ferromagnetic properties, which interact with the MRI environment to cause signal intensity attenuation that is quantifiable by comparing images collected at 1.5 and 3.0 T. We tested functional correlates of an MR-based iron index in 10 healthy, elderly individuals previously reported to have a higher iron burden in the putamen and lower in the thalamus than young individuals. Lower scores on the Dementia Rating Scale and longer reaction times on a two-choice attention test correlated with higher iron estimates in the caudate nucleus and putamen; poorer Mini-Mental State Examination and Digit Symbol scores correlated with lower iron estimates in the thalamus. Further analyses based on multiple regression, which considered regional FDRI estimates and volume measures as predictors of performance, identified iron but not the sampled volume as the unique predictor in each case. These exploratory correlations suggest a substrate of performance degradation in aging and have implications for regional signal darkening in an array of MR-based imaging protocols.