NWPF

News ArchivesRead News

Scientists image brain structures that deteriorate in Parkinson's

Tuesday November 27, 2012

A new imaging technique developed at MIT offers the first glimpse of the degeneration of two brain structures affected by Parkinson's disease.
Anne Trafton

Medicalxpress.com - The technique, which combines several types of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), could allow doctors to better monitor patients' progression and track the effectiveness of potential new treatments, says Suzanne Corkin, MIT professor emerita of neuroscience and leader of the research team. The first author of the paper is David Ziegler, who received his PhD in brain and cognitive sciences from MIT in 2011.

The study, appearing in the Nov. 26 online edition of the Archives of Neurology, is also the first to provide clinical evidence for the theory that Parkinson's neurodegeneration begins deep in the brain and advances upward.

"This progression has never been shown in living people, and that's what was special about this study. With our new imaging methods, we can see these structures more clearly than anyone had seen them before," Corkin says.

Parkinson's disease currently affects 1 to 2 percent of people over 65, totaling five million people worldwide. The disease gradually destroys the brain cells that control movement, leaving most patients wheelchair-bound and completely dependent on caregivers. "A major obstacle to research on the causes and progression of this disease has been a lack of effective brain imaging methods for the areas affected by the disease," Ziegler says.

In 2004, Heiko Braak, an anatomist at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, classified Parkinson's disease into six stages, based on the appearances of the affected brain structures. He proposed that during the earliest stages, a structure deep inside the brain, known as the substantia nigra, begins to degenerate. This structure is critical for movement and also plays important roles in reward and addiction.

Later, Braak proposed, degeneration spreads outward to a brain region known as the basal forebrain. This area, located behind the eyes, includes several structures that produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter important for learning and memory.

Neuropathologists (scientists who study the brains of deceased patients) had found evidence for this sequence of events, but it had never been observed in living patients because the substantia nigra, deep within the brain, is so difficult to image with conventional MRI.

To overcome that, the MIT team used four types of MRI scans, each of which uses slightly different magnetic fields, generating different images. By combining these scans, the researchers created composite images of each patient's brain that clearly show the substantia nigra and basal forebrain. "Our new MRI methods provide an unparalleled view of these two structures, allowing us to calculate the precise volumes of each structure," Ziegler says.

After scanning normal brains, the researchers studied 29 early-stage Parkinson's patients. They found significant loss of volume in the substantia nigra early on, followed by loss of basal forebrain volume later in the disease, as predicted by Braak.

In future studies, this MRI technique could be used to follow patients over time and measure whether degeneration of the two areas is correlated or if they deteriorate independently of one another, Corkin says.

This approach could also give doctors a new way to monitor how their patients are responding to treatment, she says. (Most patients are treated with dopamine, which helps to overcome the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra.) Researchers could also use the new imaging tools to determine the effects of potential new treatments.

Recent News

Oct 18 - Brain disconnections may contribute to Parkinson's hallucinations
Oct 18 - Fighting Parkinson's disease through dance
Oct 17 - Scientists Identify Structure of PINK1, Key Parkinson’s-protective Protein
Oct 17 - Diabetes drug cuts Parkinson's risk by 28 percent, study finds
Oct 10 - Advances in Brain Pacemaker Reduces Tremors, Helps Parkinson's Sufferers Live a More Normal Life
Oct 10 - Medical History Could Help Predict Parkinson's Disease Risk Long Before Diagnosis
Oct 3 - Changes in Olfactory Bulb Explain Loss of Smell in Early Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Study Finds
Oct 3 - Sleep Disturbances May Worsen Motor Symptoms in Parkinson’s Disease, Study Suggests
Sep 12 - Australian Researchers Develop New Diagnostic Tool to Spot Early Signs of Parkinson’s
Sep 11 - GeneFo Webinar to Focus on Using Humor to Manage Parkinson’s Disease
Sep 6 - Parkinson’s and the ‘D’ word
Sep 6 - Compounds in Asthma Drugs Might Be Used as Parkinson’s Treatment
Sep 5 - AstraZeneca Joins Takeda, Berg to Advance Development of Parkinson’s Disease Therapies
Sep 1 - Stem Cell Transplant Trial in Parkinson’s Patients Planned After Test in Japan Succeeds in Monkeys
Sep 1 - Titan to Start Phase 1/2 Study of Subdermal Implant to Deliver Requip to Parkinson’s Patients
Aug 30 - FDA Refuses Acorda’s Inbrija New Drug Application Due to Manufacturing Questions
Aug 23 - Support Groups: Are They for You?
Aug 22 - Internet Visits with Parkinson’s Specialist Can Be as Effective as In-person Visits, Trial Finds
Aug 21 - Cavion’s New CMO to Lead Cav3 Platform Development for Neurological Diseases
Aug 15 - Singing Helps Early-stage Parkinson’s Patients Retain Speech, Respiratory Control, Studies Show