Parkinson's symptoms shown on PET scans

A neurologist has used an advanced form of brain imaging to identify changes in small regions of the brains of living Parkinson’s disease patients for the first time. These scientists analyzed positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the brains of 41 Parkinson’s patients and 16 normal individuals obtained at the Hammersmith Hospital, part of the Imperial College of Medicine in London, England. The scans focused on two small areas found deep in the brain called the locus coeruleus and raphe, areas that control attention and wakefulness. The analysis found positive evidence of degeneration of nerve cells in these areas.From the University of Pittsburgh:Parkinson’s symptoms indicated for first time on pet scans of brains of living patients

PITTSBURGH, April 2 — A University of Pittsburgh neurologist has used an advanced form of brain imaging to identify changes in small regions of the brains of living Parkinson’s disease patients for the first time. These results were presented today at the American Academy of Neurology meeting being held in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Robert Y. Moore, M.D., Ph.D., Love Family Professor and professor of neurology and neuroscience and co-director of the National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh, analyzed positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the brains of 41 Parkinson’s patients and 16 normal individuals obtained at the Hammersmith Hospital, part of the Imperial College of Medicine in London, England. The scans focused on two small areas found deep in the brain called the locus coeruleus and raphe, areas that control attention and wakefulness. His analysis found positive evidence of degeneration of nerve cells in these areas.

“We were able to see changes in these areas for the very first time,” Dr. Moore said. “Before now, we could only see these changes on post-mortem examinations. The implications of this are enormous because it shows that we can now begin to gain a better understanding of the progression of this disease and treatment using PET.”

PET is an imaging method that provides high-resolution pictures of the chemistry of the brain by measuring the concentration of positron-emitting radioisotopes. An individual undergoing a PET scan is administered a radiopharmaceutical ? a drug containing a radioactive isotope specifically formulated to be taken up by specific groups of nerve cells ? intravenously.

“PET scans are important in helping us develop methods to make an earlier diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and even to identify people who have no symptoms but are at risk of developing the disease so that we can begin treatment and prevent severe disability from occurring,” he said. “There are several drugs now in FDA phase I and II trials that hold promise for this.”

An estimated one million people in the United States suffer from Parkinson’s, a degenerative neurological disease that selectively affects nerve cells producing the chemical dopamine that are important in the control of movement. The major early signs of Parkinson’s disease include slowness of movement, an abnormal increase in muscle tone and tremor. Many patients also experience disruptions of the sleep/wake cycle and their ability to mentally focus attention.

It is believed that the loss of nerve cells usually begins 5 to 7 years before symptoms develop and the disease is most common in people over 50 but, in recent years, much younger, high-profile patients have included actor Michael J. Fox and television talk show host Montel Williams, who have brought more public attention to the disease.

Dr. Moore said that while a cure may be years away, a number of recent advances have improved the treatment of Parkinson’s and give hope for “neuroprotective” therapies that would delay the progression of the disease.

The University of Pittsburgh has one of the most active research efforts in Parkinson’s disease in the country, with a number of faculty conducting ongoing investigations.

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