European Union Joint Programme

New european project IRONSLEEP



In collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig (project coordinator), the University of Amsterdam and the University of Pécs, the GIGA-CRC-IVI (Dr Gilles Vandewalle and Pr Pierre Maquet) has obtained a European Union Joint Programme - Neurodegenerative Diseases Research (EU JPND) grant (200.000€ for ULiège) to better understand PD and its preclinical stages.


The early stage of Parkinson's disease (PD) is characterized by dysfunction of the dopaminergic system, by intracellular deposits of synuclein protein and iron deposits as well as by neuronal loss in small brain nuclei, which are involved in the regulation of sleep and wakefulness. This is probably why REM sleep disturbances are among the earliest preclinical signs of PD progression, while restless legs syndrome, often accompanied by periodic limb movements during sleep, is associated with an increased risk of PD. The pattern and preclinical spread of PD, however, remain largely unknown. This fragmentary knowledge is due, in large part, to the fact that non-invasive neuroimaging methods do not adequately track disease progression in the small subcortical nuclei of the brain.

IRONSLEEP (Early stage neuroimaging and behavioral biomarkers of PD progression and underlying mechanisms) is an interdisciplinary project that aims to combine state-of-the-art developments in ultra-high resolution MRI at 7 Tesla with cutting-edge sleep and genetics research to elucidate the degeneration of the subcortical nuclei in preclinical PD and to associate them with alterations in REM sleep. The goal is to elucidate the subtle anatomical changes in the substantia nigra and locus coeruleus, which are central to PD, that are associated with sleep in healthy individuals at risk of developing PD, as well as in patients with REM sleep disorder, restless legs syndrome and PD. The project also aims to provide clinicians with new tools for the detection of PD by translating the results obtained with the 7T to clinical practice by including data collected by the clinically available 3T MRI. IRONSLEEP hopes to provide new biomarkers of PD and of the risk of developing the disease and aims to significantly improve the understanding of structural brain alterations in the locus coeruleus and subtantia nigra in the preclinical stages of PD.

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