The diagnosis of idiopathic Parkinson's disease (PD) can be achieved with high degrees of accuracy in cases with full expression of classical clinical features. However, diagnostic uncertainty remains in early disease with subtle or ambiguous signs. Functional imaging has been suggested to increase the diagnostic yield in parkinsonian syndromes with uncertain clinical classification. Loss of striatal dopamine nerve terminal function, a hallmark of neurodegenerative parkinsonism, is strongly related to decreases of dopamine transporter (DAT) density, which can be measured by single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). The use of DAT-SPECT facilitates the differential diagnosis in patients with isolated tremor symptoms not fulfilling PD or essential tremor criteria, drug-induced, psychogenic and vascular parkinsonism as well as dementia when associated with parkinsonism. This review addresses the value of DAT-SPECT in early differential diagnosis, and its potential as a screening tool for subjects at risk of developing PD as well as issues around the assessment of disease progression.
2007 Movement Disorder Society