Background: The goal of this study was to evaluate the effects of L-Dopa medication in Parkinson's disease (PD) on brain activation during the performance of a set-shifting task. Using fMRI, we have previously studied the patterns of activity observed in patients with PD after overnight removal of dopaminergic medication compared with control participants during the performance of different stages of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST). The results revealed decreased cortical activity in the PD group compared to controls in the conditions that significantly required striatum, while increased cortical activity was observed when striatum was not involved. However, the effect of dopaminergic medication in PD patients on those patterns of activity has not yet been studied.
Methodology/principal findings: Here, eleven PD patients at early stage of the disease taking L-Dopa medication were recruited and underwent two fMRI sessions while performing the WCST: one session while taking their normal dose of medication and the other following overnight dopaminergic medication withdrawal. We found that L-dopa medication helped restoring a normal pattern of activity when matching and not planning was required, by increasing cortical activity in the premotor cortex. This effect was even stronger in the motor loop, i.e. when the putamen was required for controls, when matching following negative feedback. However, the medication did not change the pattern of activity in conditions relying primarily on a cognitive loop, i.e. when the caudate nucleus was required.
Conclusions/significance: These studies provide explanation at the neural level regarding the relatively poor effects of L-Dopa on the cognitive deficits observed in PD.