Neuromelanin related ultra-high field signal intensity of the locus coeruleus differs between Parkinson's disease and controls

Amée F Wolters, Margot Heijmans, Nikos Priovoulos, Heidi I L Jacobs, Alida A Postma, Yasin Temel, Mark L Kuijf, Stijn Michielse

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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INTRODUCTION: Neuromelanin related signal changes in catecholaminergic nuclei are considered as a promising MRI biomarker in Parkinson's disease (PD). Until now, most studies have investigated the substantia nigra (SN), while signal changes might be more prominent in the locus coeruleus (LC). Ultra-high field MRI improves the visualisation of these small brainstem regions and might support the development of imaging biomarkers in PD.

OBJECTIVES: To compare signal intensity of the SN and LC on Magnetization Transfer MRI between PD patients and healthy controls (HC) and to explore its association with cognitive performance in PD.

METHODS: This study was conducted using data from the TRACK-PD study, a longitudinal 7T MRI study. A total of 78 early-stage PD patients and 36 HC were included. A mask for the SN and LC was automatically segmented and manually corrected. Neuromelanin related signal intensity of the SN and LC was compared between PD and HC.

RESULTS: PD participants showed a lower contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) in the right SN (p = 0.029) and left LC (p = 0.027). After adding age as a confounder, the CNR of the right SN did not significantly differ anymore between PD and HC (p = 0.055). Additionally, a significant positive correlation was found between the SN CNR and memory function.

DISCUSSION: This study confirms that neuromelanin related signal intensity of the LC differs between early-stage PD patients and HC. No significant difference was found in the SN. This supports the theory of bottom-up disease progression in PD. Furthermore, loss of SN integrity might influence working memory or learning capabilities in PD patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103479
JournalNeuroimage. Clinical
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2023


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