Increased iron in the brain may be a marker for multiple sclerosis.
That's the conclusion of new Canadian research published online in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders that could pave the way for a new test for MS.
The study, led by Ravi Menon of the Robarts Research Institute of Western University, found iron deposits in deep gray matter of the brain — suggesting the accumulation occurs very early in the disease.
The research also casts new doubts on controversial "liberation therapy" for MS, which involves opening the veins of MS patients to increase blood flow to the brain.
Menon and colleagues used MRIs to scan 22 patients with a condition that often leads to MS, and compared them to other health individuals.
"We wanted to know if the iron deposits happen early in the process, or whether it's something that accumulates with time as the disease progresses," said Menon.
"We also studied the veins that drain from the brain and looked for a correlation between the diameter of of these veins and iron accumulation. One of the reasons to do this, of course was the hypothesis proposed by Carlos Zamboni that if you had narrow jugular veins, this would give rise to additional iron and in turn cause MS."
The scientists found iron deposits in the pre-MS group were well above the amounts found in the others. The MRIs also revealed for the first time, subtle damage to the brain's white matter even at this early stage. The researchers also found no correlation between the iron deposits and diameter of the veins.
Menon said the imaging research could lead to the earlier diagnosis of MS and plans to follow the patients every four months for the next two years.
"We're looking at a couple of different approaches to diagnostics using this imaging research," he said. "In suspected MS cases — the very first time they appear in clinic, if they have an abnormally high amount of iron in the frontal cortex of the brain — that's probably a pretty good sign they have MS or some other white matter disease."
This study was funded primarily by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
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