MRI can ID ‘waterlogged’ brain region, help gauge Parkinson’s damage

Scientists from the University of Florida in Gainesville have used MRI to quantify the damage of Parkinson’s disease by tracking fluid changes in one area of the brain.

Brain imaging allowed the team to differentiate between water in brain cells and so-called “free” water. Parkinson’s kills neurons that use dopamine to communicate with other cells. Over time, free water increased in early-stage Parkinson’s patients, while remaining steady in health brains.

“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 research lead David Vaillancourt, PhD, a professor of applied physiology and kinesiology at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

The research was published online July 26 in the journal Brain and supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers ranked Parkinson’s patients on a scale of 1 to 5 in terms of severity. Patients’ movement up the scale correlated with an increasing amount of free water.

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

Using MRI to measure free water could be an effective tool in Parkinson’s clinical trials. Such a test could control costs in such trials by reducing the number of participants.

The entire study is available for free.