Background: The occurrence of Parkinson's disease (PD) is known to be associated both with increased nigrostriatal iron content and with low serum cholesterol and PD, but there has been no study to determine a potential relationship between these two factors. Methods: High-resolution MRI (T1-, T2, and multiple echo T2*-weighted imaging) and fasting lipid levels were obtained from 40 patients with PD and 29 healthy controls. Iron content was estimated from mean R2* values (R2* = 1/T2*) calculated for each nigrostriatal structure including substantia nigra, caudate, putamen, and globus pallidus. This was correlated with serum cholesterol levels after controlling for age, gender, and statin use. Results: In patients with PD, higher serum cholesterol levels were associated with lower iron content in the substantia nigra (R = -0.43, p = 0.011 for total-cholesterol, R = -0.31, p = 0.080 for low-density lipoprotein) and globus pallidus (R = -0.38, p = 0.028 for total-cholesterol, R = -0.27, p = 0.127 for low-density lipoprotein), but only a trend toward significant association of higher total-cholesterol with lower iron content in the striatum (R = -0.34, p = 0.052 for caudate; R = -0.32, p = 0.061 for putamen). After adjusting for clinical measures, the cholesterol-iron relationships held or became even stronger in the substantia nigra and globus pallidus, but weaker in the caudate and putamen. There was no significant association between serum cholesterol levels and nigrostriatal iron content for controls. Conclusions: The data show that higher serum total-cholesterol concentration is associated with lower iron content in substantia nigra and globus pallidus in Parkinson's disease patients. Further studies should investigate whether this is mechanistic or epiphenomenological relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere35397
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 17 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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