Iron in our bodies performs some fundamental functions such as transporting oxygen within the blood. However, in certain conditions, too much iron can harm us.
In healthy brains, iron is stored in the cells that produce myelin and in myelin sheaths. When, because of MS, these are destroyed, iron is released. This can lead to inflammation.
It has been reported that increased iron is associated with decreased brain volume. It can also precede brain atrophy, suggesting that it is involved with neurodegeneration.
Several studies have shown that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can indirectly detect increased iron in the brains of people with MS. However the role of iron in disease progression and development of disability is poorly understood.
In 2007, researchers from New York University pioneered a new MRI technique to detect iron increase in the deep brain areas.
The same team recently published a study of 31 patients with MS and 17 healthy volunteers. Using the new MRI method, they found increased iron in several deep brain areas of people with MS, but not in the volunteers.
This means that iron could be a useful biomarker, helping us understand the MS inflammation process. It might also be a useful marker of disease progression.
However, whether there is a definite iron accumulation in specific brain areas has to be further assessed in a larger number of patients.