Brain iron plays key roles in catecholaminergic neurotransmitter synthesis and early life brain development. It is also central to cellular energetics and neurotransmitter metabolism throughout the lifespan. Disturbances in brain iron have been implicated in a growing number of psychiatric and late-life neurodegenerative disorders. Additionally, brain iron accumulations are thought to play a deleterious role in neuroinflammatory processes in later life. Despite its importance, the role of brain iron in development, aging, and psychiatric disorders remains comparatively understudied. This is partly due to technical challenges inherent in implementation and analysis of formal iron imaging protocols and practical constraints on scan session durations. Here, we introduce a method to estimate relative brain iron concentrations that is 1) computationally simple, 2) shows excellent correspondence with formal iron imaging in-vivo, 3) replicates clinically-relevant findings from formal iron imaging, 4) yields novel insights into brain iron and cognition across the lifespan, and 5) leverages a widely available and frequently shared brain imaging modality: functional MRI. The computationally simple nature of the measure, coupled with the availability of fMRI datasets across the lifespan and disorders, has the potential to transform our understanding of the complex and critical relationship between iron and brain health.
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