Radionuclide brain imaging correlates of cognitive impairment in Parkinson's disease (PD)


      A subtle cognitive impairment can be detected early in the course of Parkinson's disease (PD). Executive, memory and visuospatial functions are specifically affected, but the underlying pathophysiological basis is not well elucidated yet and may be heterogeneous. The recent identification of a PD-related cognitive metabolic pattern (PDCP), including hypometabolism in associative frontal, parietal and posterior limbic structures, has integrated the classical notion of a striato-frontal syndrome at the basis of cognitive dys-function. Recent evidence suggests that whilst executive dys-function is seen in virtually all PD patients, visuospatial and memory impairment may share a higher risk for the subsequent development of dementia. By means of perfusion SPECT and [18F]FDG-PET, cortical dys-function may be highlighted since the early stages, it is more evident in PD patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and reaches the maximum in PD dementia (PDD). Posterior temporo–parieto–occipital dys-function in associative and limbic cortex, closely resembling that found in Alzheimer's disease patients, is found in PDD, with a more severe occipital hypometabolism and a relatively milder hypometabolism in medial temporal lobe structures. Furthermore, deficit of acetylcholinesterase (AchE) can be found by means of [11C]MP4A-PET already in early stage of PD, especially in posterior regions, then becoming more severe in PDD and in dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Administration of AchE inhibitors to PDD patients increased brain metabolism in bilateral frontal and left parietal regions, and left posterior cingulate. Finally, the recent availability of radiopharmaceuticals able to disclose amyloid brain deposition has allowed to demonstrate amyloid load in a part of patients with PDD, possibly due to diffuse rather than neuritic plaques. Brain PET and SPECT have strongly contributed to the understanding of the pathophysiology of cognitive impairment in PD and may serve as probes to monitor the effects of therapeutic interventions.


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