Brain MRI Detects Telling Sign of Parkinson’s Disease

April 30, 2014

Images from 3T MRI help detect signs of Parkinson’s disease, inexpensively, and with no danger of radiation exposure.

An image, similar in shape to a swallow’s tail, detected by 3T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been identified as a new and accurate test for Parkinson's disease (PD), according to an article published in PLOS one.

According to the researchers from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, the image depicts the healthy state of a group of cells in the sub-region of the human brain. It was singled out using 3T MRI scanning technology. The researchers coined the phrase the 'swallow tail appearance' as an easy recognizable sign of the healthy appearing substantia nigra, which is lost in Parkinson's disease. The characteristic pathology of Parkinson’s disease had already been pinpointed using high resolution, ultra high field 7T MRI, however, the 3T scanning technology is more readily available in the UK.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"24224","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_427074757043","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"2065","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"Credit: Dr. Stefan Schwarz","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

The researchers reviewed 114 high-resolution scans and accurately diagnosed patients in 94 percent of cases using this technique. “Two raters independently classified subjects into PD and non-PD according to absence or presence of nigrosome-1, followed by consensus reading,” the authors wrote.

Using MRI to detect signs of Parkinson’s disease reduces costs and avoids exposing patients to ionizing radiation. "This is a breakthrough finding as currently Parkinson's disease is mostly diagnosed by identifying symptoms like stiffness and tremor. Imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis are limited to expensive nuclear medical techniques, which are not widely available and associated with potentially harmful ionizing radiation,” coauthor Stefan T. Schwartz, MD, said in a release.