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Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre

Department of Clinical Neurosciences

While most MRI scanners can show structures at the level of detail of a grain of rice, ultra-powerful 7T MRI scanners, which have ultra-strong magnetic fields, can provide resolution at the size of a grain of sand.

Rong Ye and Claire O’Callaghan in a study published in Movement Disorders led by Luca Passamonti and James Rowe (both Clinical Neurosciences) used the ultra-high 7T MRI at the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre to examine in patients with Parkinson’s disease and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). They were able to measure a tiny region at the back of the brain called the locus coeruleus. This region produces all of the brain’s noradrenaline, a chemical that plays a critical role in brain functions including attention and arousal, thinking and motivation. Previous MRI scanners have not had the resolution to accurately measure this region in living patients.

Patients are often treated with drugs such as L-DOPA, which compensate for the severe loss of dopamine. But, dopamine treatments do little for many of the non-motor symptoms. Noradrenaline based treatments have greater potential to restore brain functions like attention and motivation. Only some people with PSP or Parkinson’s patient are likely to benefit from noradrenaline-boosting drugs. The research showed that cognitive decline and apathy were linked to the state of the locus coeruleus. Noradrenaline-boosting drugs are more likely to benefit those people with more damage to their locus coeruleus – the greater the damage, the more benefit they’re likely to see.

The new 7T brain imaging is now being used as part of a clinical trial in people with PSP, to try to improve the clinical trial and target treatment effectively.

Read more about the 7T MRI scanners here