Association between increased magnetic susceptibility of deep gray matter nuclei and decreased motor function in healthy adults.


In the human brain, iron is more prevalent in gray matter than in white matter, and deep gray matter structures, particularly the globus pallidus, putamen, caudate nucleus, substantia nigra, red nucleus, and dentate nucleus, exhibit especially high iron content. Abnormally elevated iron levels have been found in various neurodegenerative diseases. Additionally, iron overload and related neurodegeneration may also occur during aging, but the functional consequences are not clear. In this study, we explored the correlation between magnetic susceptibility--a surrogate marker of brain iron--of these gray matter structures with behavioral measures of motor and cognitive abilities, in 132 healthy adults aged 40-83 years. Latent variables corresponding to manual dexterity and executive functions were obtained using factor analysis. The factor scores for manual dexterity declined significantly with increasing age. Independent of gender, age, and global cognitive function, increasing magnetic susceptibility in the globus pallidus and red nuclei was associated with decreasing manual dexterity. This finding suggests the potential value of magnetic susceptibility, a non-invasive quantitative imaging marker of iron, for the study of iron-related brain function changes.





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Publication Info

Li, Wei, Christian Langkammer, Ying-Hui Chou, Katja Petrovic, Reinhold Schmidt, Allen W Song, David J Madden, Stefan Ropele, et al. (2015). Association between increased magnetic susceptibility of deep gray matter nuclei and decreased motor function in healthy adults. Neuroimage, 105. pp. 45–52. 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.10.009 Retrieved from

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Allen W Song

Professor in Radiology

The research in our lab is concerned with advancing structural and functional MRI methodologies (e.g. fast and high-resolution imaging techniques) for human brain imaging. We also aim to improve our understanding of functional brain signals, including spatiotemporal characterizations of the blood oxygenation level dependent contrast and alternative contrast mechanisms that are more directly linked to the neuronal activities. Additional effort is invested in applying and validating the developed methods to study human functional neuroanatomy.


David Joseph Madden

Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

My research focuses primarily on the cognitive neuroscience of aging: the investigation of age-related changes in perception, attention, and memory, using both behavioral measures and neuroimaging techniques, including positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

The behavioral measures have focused on reaction time, with the goal of distinguishing age-related changes in specific cognitive abilities from more general effects arising from a slowing in elementary perceptual processes. The cognitive abilities of interest include selective attention as measured in visual search tasks, semantic and episodic memory retrieval, and executive control processes.

The behavioral measures are necessary to define the cognitive abilities of interest, and the neuroimaging techniques help define the functional neuroanatomy of those abilities. The PET and fMRI measures provide information regarding neural activity during cognitive performance. DTI is a recently developed technique that images the structural integrity of white matter. The white matter tracts of the brain provide critical pathways linking the gray matter regions, and thus this work will complement the studies using PET and fMRI that focus on gray matter activation.

A current focus of the research program is the functional connectivity among regions, not only during cognitive task performance but also during rest. These latter measures, referred to as intrinsic functional connectivity, are beginning to show promise as an index of overall brain functional efficiency, which can be assessed without the implementation of a specific cognitive task. From DTI, information can be obtained regarding how anatomical connectivity constrains intrinsic functional connectivity. It will be important to determine the relative influence of white matter pathway integrity, intrinsic functional connectivity, and task-related functional connectivity, as mediators of age-related differences in behavioral measures of cognitive performance.

Ultimately, the research program can help link age-related changes in cognitive performance to changes in the structure and function of specific neural systems. The results also have implications for clinical translation, in terms of the identification of neural biomarkers for the diagnosis of neural pathology and targeting rehabilitation procedures.

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