Quantitative susceptibility mapping of brain iron in healthy aging and cognition.

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Quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM) is a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that can assess the magnetic properties of cerebral iron in vivo. Although brain iron is necessary for basic neurobiological functions, excess iron content disrupts homeostasis, leads to oxidative stress, and ultimately contributes to neurodegenerative disease. However, some degree of elevated brain iron is present even among healthy older adults. To better understand the topographical pattern of iron accumulation and its relation to cognitive aging, we conducted an integrative review of 47 QSM studies of healthy aging, with a focus on five distinct themes. The first two themes focused on age-related increases in iron accumulation in deep gray matter nuclei versus the cortex. The overall level of iron is higher in deep gray matter nuclei than in cortical regions. Deep gray matter nuclei vary with regard to age-related effects, which are most prominent in the putamen, and age-related deposition of iron is also observed in frontal, temporal, and parietal cortical regions during healthy aging. The third theme focused on the behavioral relevance of iron content and indicated that higher iron in both deep gray matter and cortical regions was related to decline in fluid (speed-dependent) cognition. A handful of multimodal studies, reviewed in the fourth theme, suggest that iron interacts with imaging measures of brain function, white matter degradation, and the accumulation of neuropathologies. The final theme concerning modifiers of brain iron pointed to potential roles of cardiovascular, dietary, and genetic factors. Although QSM is a relatively recent tool for assessing cerebral iron accumulation, it has significant promise for contributing new insights into healthy neurocognitive aging.





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Madden, David J, and Jenna L Merenstein (2023). Quantitative susceptibility mapping of brain iron in healthy aging and cognition. NeuroImage, 282. p. 120401. 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2023.120401 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/30012.

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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.


Jenna Merenstein

Postdoctoral Scholar

My research uses MRI to study the effect of healthy brain aging on numerous cognitive abilities, especially memory and attention. I also use MRI to study the structural and functional brain properties that differentiate Alzheimer's disease from healthy aging. I obtained my Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience in April 2022 from Dr. Lani Bennett's lab at the University of California, Riverside. I am currently a Postdoctoral Associate working in the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center (BIAC) with Dr. David Madden. 

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