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Sleep Med. 2006 Aug;7(5):458-61. Epub 2006 Jun 5.

MRI-determined regional brain iron concentrations in early- and late-onset restless legs syndrome.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.



Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and autopsy studies have suggested that brain iron may be reduced in restless legs syndrome (RLS). Further analysis of the data also suggests that diminished brain iron may selectively be for early-onset RLS. This study was designed to replicate and extend our previous findings, specifically with regard to early-onset RLS. In this study our primary hypothesis was that substantia nigra (SN) iron index would be decreased in early-onset RLS compared to controls.


The iron concentration or 'iron index' in 10 brain regions was determined using MRI in 39 controls and in 22 early-onset and 19 late-onset RLS subjects. The Johns Hopkins RLS severity (JHRLSS) scale was used to define disease severity.


The mean iron index from the SN was significantly lower in the early-onset RLS compared to controls (t=2.5, P=0.016), while late-onset RLS and controls did not differ. There was a significant negative Spearman rank correlation between SN iron index and JHRLSS scale for the control-early-onset-RLS cohort (rho=-0.32, P=0.016).


The current MRI results in combination with previous autopsy data support the role of low brain iron in the SN in at least those with early-onset RLS symptoms.

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