News | Neuro Imaging | July 31, 2017

Waterlogged Brain Region Helps Scientists Gauge Damage Caused by Parkinson’s Disease

NIH-funded research could aid drug development for the condition

NIH-funded scientists have discovered that Parkinson’s disease increases the amount of “free” water in a particular brain area

NIH-funded scientists have discovered that Parkinson’s disease increases the amount of “free” water in a particular brain area. Image courtesy of David Vaillancourt, Ph.D., University of Florida.

Scientists at the University of Florida have discovered a new method of observing the brain changes caused by Parkinson’s disease, which destroys neurons important for movement. The development suggests that fluid changes in a specific brain area could provide a way to track that damage. The study, published in the journal Brain, was supported by the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

“By finding a new way to detect and track how Parkinson’s affects the brain, this study provides an important tool for assessing whether a drug might slow or stop those changes and keep symptoms from getting worse,” said NINDS Program Director Daofen Chen, Ph.D.

The researchers, led by David Vaillancourt, Ph.D., a professor of applied physiology and kinesiology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL, used a form of MRI that differentiates between water contained in brain cells and “free” water outside of cells. Their analysis focused on the substantia nigra, a brain structure where Parkinson’s disease kills neurons that use the chemical dopamine to communicate with other cells. The results showed that the amount of free water in that brain area stayed the same over the course of a year in healthy individuals but increased in early-stage Parkinson’s patients during that period and increased further over the next three years. This confirms and expands on a prior study by the same group that measured free water over just one year. The new findings also revealed the increase in free water was linked to worsening symptoms.

“The amount of free water doesn’t just change over one year – it keeps progressively increasing, which suggests that it’s tracking the progressive degeneration of neurons,” said Vaillancourt.

The researchers used a scale to evaluate patient’s movement problems, with Stage One on the scale being the least severe and Stage Five being the most advanced. Patients who moved up a stage on the scale during the four years of the study had a greater free water increase than patients who remained at the same stage, suggesting the change reflected Parkinson’s-related damage to neurons.     

Parkinson’s disease destroys dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra, which connect to adjacent brain areas. Dr. Vaillancourt’s study showed that a greater free water increase in the substantia nigra was associated with a decrease in dopamine neuron activity in one of these nearby regions, supporting the idea that free water changes are related to progression of the disease.  

“That correlation is encouraging because it pins down the biological relevance of free water,” Vaillancourt said.

The study’s results suggest that the MRI-based free water measurement could be used in Parkinson’s disease clinical trials. If a treatment slows or stops the increase in free water, it might be evidence that the drug is slowing the progressive loss of dopamine neurons. 

The researchers used data from the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), a large study sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation that has been collecting information on recently diagnosed Parkinson’s patients from over 30 different U.S. and international sites. The fact that Vaillancourt’s team found similar patterns in patients at every location boosted his confidence in the results because, like the PPMI, clinical trials must collect data from many sites using numerous different MRI machines.

“The PPMI data is real-world messy data, and when you find the effect in real-world messy data, it makes you think that it has legs,” he said.

Dr. Vaillancourt speculated that his team’s free water approach could make clinical trials less expensive by reducing the number of participants they would need to enroll. His team is currently running just such a study using free water to gauge the effect of a potential Parkinson’s treatment. At the same time, the group is attempting to develop computer programs that will make free water analysis faster and easier. Future studies are needed to track changes in free water over longer time spans and in other brain regions and to determine what causes them. 

The study was funded by NINDS (NS052318), the National Institute of Mental Health (MH108574), the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (EB015902), and the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative. 

For more information: www.nih.gov

Related Content

The cartilage in this MRI scan of a knee is colorized to show greater contrast between shades of gray.

The cartilage in this MRI scan of a knee is colorized to show greater contrast between shades of gray. Image courtesy of Kundu et al. (2020) PNAS

News | Artificial Intelligence | September 22, 2020
September 22, 2020 — Researchers at the University of Pitts...
New research from King's College London has found that COVID-19 may be diagnosed on the same emergency scans intended to diagnose stroke.

Canon Medical Systems

News | Cardiac Imaging | September 22, 2020
September 22, 2020 — New research from King's College London has
According to Philips, MR-STAT is a major shift in MRI, relying on a new, smart acquisition scheme and machine-assisted reconstruction. It delivers multiple quantitative MR parameters in a single fast scan, and represents a significant advance in MR tissue classification, fueling big data algorithms and AI-enabled integrated diagnostic solutions.

Image courtesy of Philips Healthcare

Feature | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | September 21, 2020 | By Melinda Taschetta-Millane
A new report,...
Figure 1. Doppler flows in subpleural consolidation shows smoothly dilated branching arteries

Figure 1. Doppler flows in subpleural consolidation shows smoothly dilated branching arteries 

Feature | Radiology Imaging | September 17, 2020 | By Robert Bard, M.D. PC, DABR, FASLM
COVID-19 is routinely studied using...
Ultrasound-guided carpal tunnel release quickly improves hand function and reduces hand discomfort, making the procedure a safe, effective, and less invasive alternative to traditional open or endoscopic surgery

Patients answered three questionnaires (Quick-Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand [QDASH] and two parts of the Boston Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Questionnaire: symptom severity [BCTSQ-SS] and functional status [BCTSQ-FS] scales) assessing the affected wrist's function and discomfort immediately pre-procedure, 2 weeks post-procedure, and at least one year post-procedure. Infographic courtesy of the American Roentgen Ray Society (ARRS), American Journal of Roentgenology (AJR)

News | Ultrasound Imaging | September 17, 2020
September 17, 2020 — According to ARRS' American Journal of Roentgenology (AJR),...
HABLE study prioritizes brain imaging and biomarker research among Mexican Americans.

Getty Images

News | PET Imaging | September 14, 2020
September 14, 2020 — To meet the pressing need to better understand the prevalence, progression, and clinical impact
 A cardiac MRI is effective in identifying inflammation of the heart muscle in athletes and can help determine when those who have recovered from COVID-19 can safely return to play in competitive sports, according to a new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Getty Images

News | Cardiac Imaging | September 14, 2020
September 14, 2020 — A...
All intensive care unit equipment, including ventilators, pumps, and monitoring devices, as well as the point-of-care magnetic resonance image operator and bedside nurse, remained in the room. All equipment was operational during scanning.

All intensive care unit equipment, including ventilators, pumps, and monitoring devices, as well as the point-of-care magnetic resonance image operator and bedside nurse, remained in the room. All equipment was operational during scanning. Image courtesy of JAMA Neurology

News | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | September 11, 2020
September 11, 2020 — A portable, low-field...
Six months after deployment, the no-show rate of the predictive model was 15.9%, compared with 19.3% in the preceding 12-month preintervention period — corresponding to a 17.2% improvement from the baseline no-show rate (p < 0.0001). The no-show rates of contactable and noncontactable patients in the group at high risk of appointment no-shows as predicted by the model were 17.5% and 40.3%, respectively (p < 0.0001).

Weekly outpatient MRI appointment no-show rates for 1 year before (19.3%) and 6 months after (15.9%) implementation of intervention measures in March 2019, as guided by XGBoost prediction model. Squares denote data points. Courtesy of the  American Roentgen Ray Society (ARRS), American Journal of Roentgenology (AJR)

News | Artificial Intelligence | September 10, 2020
September 10, 2020 — According to ARRS’
Vantage Galan with Advanced intelligent Clear-IQ Engine (AiCE) provides high-quality images and fast exam times

Coronal orbit images: Left original and right with AiCE.

News | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | September 09, 2020
September 9, 2020