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Abstract

Objective:

To investigate anatomical changes in the substantia nigra (SN) of Parkinson disease (PD) patients with age-matched controls by using ultra-high field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Methods:

We performed 7T MRI in 10 PD and 10 age-matched control subjects. Magnetic resonance images of the SN were obtained from a 3-dimensional (3D) T2*-weighted gradient echo sequence. Region of interest-based 3D shape analysis was performed to quantitatively compare images from the 2 groups.

Results:

The boundary between the SN and crus cerebri was not smooth in PD subjects. Undulation in the lateral surface of the SN appeared more intense in the side contralateral to that with the more severe symptoms, and more prominent at the rostral level of the SN than at the intermediate or caudal levels. In addition to the lateral surface, there was a striking difference in the dorsomedial aspects of the SN between PD and control subjects. In control subjects, a brighter signal region was observed along the dorsomedial surface of the lateral portion of SN, whereas in PD subjects, this region was observed as a dark region containing a hypointense signal in T2*-weighted images. The measurement of SN volumes, normalized to the intracranial volumes, showed higher values in PD subjects than in control subjects.

Interpretation:

This study demonstrates that 3D 7T MRI can definitively visualize anatomical alterations occurring in the SN of PD subjects. Further pathological studies are required to elucidate the nature of these anatomical alterations. Ann Neurol 2012;71:267–277