Quantification of different iron forms in the aceruloplasminemia brain to explore iron-related neurodegeneration

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Aims: Aceruloplasminemia is an ultra-rare neurodegenerative disorder associated with massive brain iron deposits, of which the molecular composition is unknown. We aimed to quantitatively determine the molecular iron forms in the aceruloplasminemia brain, and to illustrate their influence on iron-sensitive MRI metrics. Methods: The inhomogeneous transverse relaxation rate (R2*) and magnetic susceptibility obtained from 7 T MRI were combined with Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) and Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) magnetometry. The basal ganglia, thalamus, red nucleus, dentate nucleus, superior- and middle temporal gyrus and white matter of a post-mortem aceruloplasminemia brain were studied. MRI, EPR and SQUID results that had been previously obtained from the temporal cortex of healthy controls were included for comparison. Results: The brain iron pool in aceruloplasminemia detected in this study consisted of EPR-detectable Fe3+ ions, magnetic Fe3+ embedded in the core of ferritin and hemosiderin (ferrihydrite-iron), and magnetic Fe3+ embedded in oxidized magnetite/maghemite minerals (maghemite-iron). Ferrihydrite-iron represented above 90% of all iron and was the main driver of iron-sensitive MRI contrast. Although deep gray matter structures were three times richer in ferrihydrite-iron than the temporal cortex, ferrihydrite-iron was already six times more abundant in the temporal cortex of the patient with aceruloplasminemia compared to the healthy situation (162 µg/g vs. 27 µg/g), on average. The concentrations of Fe3+ ions and maghemite-iron in the temporal cortex in aceruloplasminemia were within the range of those in the control subjects. Conclusions: Iron-related neurodegeneration in aceruloplasminemia is primarily associated with an increase in ferrihydrite-iron, with ferrihydrite-iron being the major determinant of iron-sensitive MRI contrast.