MS: Iron levels in brain ‘predict disability’

Mapping iron levels in the brain with a noninvasive scan could help identify multiple sclerosis patients at higher risk of future physical disability.

This was the conclusion of a study that showed how a new type of MRI might help predict the likelihood of severe disease progression in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

In a paper about to be published in the journal Radiology, the researchers describe how they used the MRI technique — called Quantitative Susceptibility Mapping (QSM) — to measure brain levels of iron in people both with and without MS.

They found that those with MS had higher levels of iron in one part of the brain and lower levels in another, and also that this pattern was consistent with disease severity and progression.

The team suggests that the finding could lead to a diagnostic tool for earlier prediction of disability in MS.

The current “gold standard” for assessing risk of decline in mental and physical function in MS is to measure “brain atrophy,” or the amount of brain tissue that has withered. However, this has limitations.

“Brain atrophy takes a long time to see,” says lead study author Robert Zivadinov, a professor of neurology in the University at Buffalo, NY. “We need an earlier measure of who will develop MS-related disability,” he adds.

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