The study was undertaken to investigate by means of iodine-123-labelled metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) scintigraphy the peripheral sympathetic function in patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) without autonomic failure and in patients with related neurodegenerative diseases with parkinsonism. Seventy patients (33 men and 37 women, mean age 63+/-9.7 years) with parkinsonism and ten control subjects underwent MIBG scintigraphy. Of these 70 patients, 41 were diagnosed as having idiopathic PD, 9 multiple system atrophy (MSA), 6 progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and 2 corticobasal degeneration (CBD); the remaining 12 were diagnosed as having neurodegenerative disease with parkinsonism (P-nism) that did not meet the diagnostic criteria of any specific disease. Cardiac planar and tomographic imaging studies and subsequent whole-body imaging were performed 20 min and 3 h after the injection of 111 MBq MIBG. The early MIBG heart to mediastinum (H/M) ratio in PD (1.61+/-0.29) was significantly lower than that in the control group (2.24+/-0.14, P<0.01), P-nism (2.15+/-0.31, P<0.01), MSA (2.08+/-0.31, P<0.05) and PSP (2.30+/-0.24, P<0.01). The delayed H/M ratio in PD (1.47+/-0.34) was also significantly lower than that in the control group (2.37+/-0.14, P<0.01), P-nism (2.13+/-0.38, P<0.01), PSP (2.36+/-0.36, P<0.01) and MSA (2.17+/-0.36, P<0.01). In patients with PD, early and delayed H/M ratios were significantly decreased in disease stages I, II and III (established using the Hoehn and Yahr criteria) as compared with control subjects, and there were no significant differences among the stages. Only PD showed a significantly higher washout rate (WR) than that in the control subjects (27%+/-8.0% vs. 11%+/-4.2%, P<0.01). Early and delayed uptake ratios of the lung, parotid gland, thyroid gland, liver and femoral muscles in each of the patient groups were not significantly different from those in control subjects. Only the early and delayed uptake ratios of the lower leg muscles in MSA were significantly lower than those in the control group (P<0.05).
In conclusion: In patients with PD without autonomic failure, only cardiac MIBG uptake was severely reduced in the earliest phase of the disease (stage I). Parkinsonian syndromes other than PD did not demonstrate significant reduction in MIBG uptake in any organs except for the lower legs in MSA. In patients with PD without autonomic failure, reduction in MIBG uptake occurs selectively in the heart; this is considered to be a specific finding for PD and useful for the differential diagnosis of the parkinsonian syndromes.