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Double Brain Scan May Screen For Parkinson’s

September 16, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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A combination of two different brain-scanning techniques may provide a way of screening  patients who are at high risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to a European research team.

Some of the same researchers had already determined, in a study published in 2006 in The Lancet Neurology, that certain REM sleep disturbances constitute an early marker for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. The disturbances involve nightmares in which the subjects call out, cry, or show body movements. In that study, 45 percent of those who exhibited the sleep disturbances developed a neurodegenerative disorder within five years after diagnosis of the disturbances.

The new study, published Wednesday in The Lancet Neurology, started with 43 new subjects who had been referred to a sleep-disorder center in Barcelona, Spain. All exhibited the REM sleep disorders identified in the earlier study.

The researchers used two scanning technologies: single photon emission CT (specifically, 123I-FP-CIT SPECT), to identify dopamine dysfunctions, and transcranial ultrasound (TCS), to identify structural changes in the substantia nigra portion of the brain that are typical precursors of Parkinson’s.

Of the 43 subjects, 27 (63 percent) showed either dopamine dysfunctions, substantia nigra changes, or both. And of those 27, 5 developed Parkinson’s and 3 developed other neurodegenerative diseases, all within two and a half years after the imaging. None of the other 16 subjects—the ones whose brain scans showed no neurological abnormalities—developed neurological disorders within that time frame.

Of course, that leaves us a long way from any sort of routine neurological screenings along the lines of the current mammogram model for breast cancer. Still, it’s a start. The findings will certainly help researchers studying the early progression of neurological diseases, and could assist in the testing of drugs that might treat such diseases in their early stages.

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review

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