Functional imaging of the dopamine transporter (DAT) defines integrity of the dopaminergic system and has its main clinical application in patients with mild, incomplete, or uncertain parkinsonism. Imaging with specific single positron emission computerised tomography ligands for DAT (FP-CIT, beta-CIT, IPT, TRODAT) provides a marker for presynaptic neuronal degeneration. Striatal uptake correlates with disease severity, in particular bradykinesia and rigidity, and monitoring of progression assists in clinical trials of potential neuroprotective drugs. DAT imaging is abnormal in idiopathic Parkinson's disease, multiple system atrophy and progressive supranuclear palsy and does not distinguish between these disorders. Dopamine loss is seen even in the earliest clinical presentations of true parkinsonism; a normal scan suggests an alternative diagnosis such as essential tremor, vascular parkinsonism (unless there is focal basal ganglia infarction), drug-induced parkinsonism, or psychogenic parkinsonism. Congruence between working clinical diagnosis and DAT imaging increases over time in favour of baseline DAT imaging results. Additional applications are characterising dementia with parkinsonian features (abnormal results in dementia with Lewy bodies, normal in Alzheimer's disease); and differentiating juvenile-onset Parkinson's disease (abnormal DAT) from dopa-responsive dystonia (normal DAT).
Copyright 2003 Movement Disorder Society