Tracking the progression of Parkinson’s disease, MSA and PSP with advanced MRI imaging

By Anna Shavers

A new study, published by University of Florida (UF) neuroscientists in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical, followed the progression of patients with three neurodegenerative disorders — Parkinson’s disease (PD), multiple system atrophy (MSA), and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) — through an analysis of MRI-related brain changes.

“This is the first study to show widespread longitudinal changes over one year in Parkinson’s disease and atypical Parkinsonian disorders using multiple diffusion MRI methods,” said lead author Trina Mitchell, a recent Ph.D. graduate with the University of Florida Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

Researchers compared three structural MRI methods including Free-water imaging, Neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI) and fixel-based analysis. Free-water imaging and NODDI show the amount of fluid outside of cells in the brain, while fixel-based analysis accounts for overlapping neuron fibers.

Using these MRI methods, neuroscientists were able to measure changes more specifically and accurately in the brains of PD, MSA and PSP patients. Researchers found that free-water imaging and fixel-based analysis effectively detected more longitudinal changes compared to NODDI.

Based on the MRI analysis, patients with MSA and PSP had a greater likelihood for declining sensory and motor pathways when compared to PD patients and healthy individuals of similar age.

“These findings are important since they identify brain regions where changes can be detected in just 1 year. This relatively short time frame is especially important for atypical Parkinsonian disorders like MSA and PSP which progress extremely rapidly and rely on early identification for successful interventions and to enroll in clinical trials,” says Mitchell.

Findings from this study confirms the importance of Free-water imaging and fixel-based analysis for future research in PD and atypical Parkinsonian disorders. Additionally, findings from this study could help validate biomarkers that can be used as outcomes in future clinical trials.

Read the article in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical.