Imaging technique may trace development of Parkinson's disease

March 24, 2009

While finding a biomarker for Parkinson's disease that would let physicians screen for or track its progression remains an elusive goal, a team led by a University of Illinois at Chicago neuroscientist has shown that a non-invasive brain scanning technique offers promise.

The tool may also help advance the development of new drugs or neuroprotective agents to treat or ward off Parkinson's. The findings, now online, will appear in a forthcoming issue of Neurology.

David Vaillancourt, assistant professor of kinesiology at UIC, along with colleagues from UIC and Rush University, used a type of MRI scan called diffusion tensor imaging on 28 subjects, half with early symptoms of Parkinson's and the other half without.

They scanned an area of the brain called the substantia nigra, a cluster of neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Parkinson's patients have been found to have about half the number of dopaminergic neurons in certain areas of the substantia nigra as those without the disease.

Determining loss of dopaminergic neurons using conventional methods such as metabolic PET scans is expensive, invasive, and requires injection of radioactive tracer chemicals. But the method studied by Vaillancourt and his group is non-invasive, relatively inexpensive, and does not use radioactive tracers.

"We're suggesting it's possible to eventually diagnose Parkinson's disease non-invasively and objectively by examining the part of the brain thought to underlie the causes of the disease," said Vaillancourt. No tool currently available can do that, he said.

The researchers say the technique may also help develop neuroprotective agents to treat Parkinson's. Vaillancourt said it's difficult to identify a neuroprotective agent using current measures because the results are skewed by any therapy used to treat symptoms.

"When you have a symptomatic effect of the neuroprotective agent, you need a lot of patients from multiple centers to determine if the neuroprotective agent works," he said. "But if you have a disease marker not affected by a dopaminergic therapy, then you would be able to test neuroprotective agents among smaller groups."

Vaillancourt thinks that would enable faster development of drugs to treat Parkinson's. He noted that while the technique his group studied works well as a trait biomarker, which allows for diagnosis, it has not yet been shown to measure the state of the disease's progression. Further research is planned.
-end-
Other authors of the paper include Joe Zhou, associate professor in the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, and Deborah Little, director of MRI research, both at UIC; and Cynthia Commella, professor of neurological sciences at Rush University Medical Center.

University of Illinois at Chicago

Related Neurons Articles from Brightsurf:

Paying attention to the neurons behind our alertness
The neurons of layer 6 - the deepest layer of the cortex - were examined by researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University to uncover how they react to sensory stimulation in different behavioral states.

Trying to listen to the signal from neurons
Toyohashi University of Technology has developed a coaxial cable-inspired needle-electrode.

A mechanical way to stimulate neurons
Magnetic nanodiscs can be activated by an external magnetic field, providing a research tool for studying neural responses.

Extraordinary regeneration of neurons in zebrafish
Biologists from the University of Bayreuth have discovered a uniquely rapid form of regeneration in injured neurons and their function in the central nervous system of zebrafish.

Dopamine neurons mull over your options
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba have found that dopamine neurons in the brain can represent the decision-making process when making economic choices.

Neurons thrive even when malnourished
When animal, insect or human embryos grow in a malnourished environment, their developing nervous systems get first pick of any available nutrients so that new neurons can be made.

The first 3D map of the heart's neurons
An interdisciplinary research team establishes a new technological pipeline to build a 3D map of the neurons in the heart, revealing foundational insight into their role in heart attacks and other cardiac conditions.

Mapping the neurons of the rat heart in 3D
A team of researchers has developed a virtual 3D heart, digitally showcasing the heart's unique network of neurons for the first time.

How to put neurons into cages
Football-shaped microscale cages have been created using special laser technologies.

A molecule that directs neurons
A research team coordinated by the University of Trento studied a mass of brain cells, the habenula, linked to disorders like autism, schizophrenia and depression.

Read More: Neurons News and Neurons Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.