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PURPOSE: To investigate the physical mechanisms associated with the contrast observed in neuromelanin MRI. METHODS: Phantoms having different concentrations of synthetic melanins with different degrees of iron loading were examined on a 3 Tesla scanner using relaxometry and quantitative magnetization transfer (MT). RESULTS: Concentration-dependent T1 and T2 shortening was most pronounced for the melanin pigment when combined with iron. Metal-free melanin had a negligible effect on the magnetization transfer spectra. On the contrary, the presence of iron-laden melanins resulted in a decreased magnetization transfer ratio. The presence of melanin or iron (or both) did not have a significant effect on the macromolecular content, represented by the pool size ratio. CONCLUSION: The primary mechanism underlying contrast in neuromelanin-MRI appears to be the T1 reduction associated with melanin-iron complexes. The macromolecular content is not significantly influenced by the presence of melanin with or without iron, and thus the MT is not directly affected. However, as T1 plays a role in determining the MT-weighted signal, the magnetization transfer ratio is reduced in the presence of melanin-iron complexes. Magn Reson Med 78:1790-1800, 2017. © 2016 International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

Original publication




Journal article


Magn Reson Med

Publication Date





1790 - 1800


MRI, magnetization transfer, neuromelanin, relaxation, Humans, Iron, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Melanins, Models, Biological, Phantoms, Imaging, Substantia Nigra