Objective: Striatal serotonin projections have been implicated in levodopa-induced dyskinesia by providing an unregulated source of dopamine release. We set out to determine whether these projections are affected by levodopa treatment in a way that would favor the occurrence of dyskinesia.
Methods: As an index of terminal serotonin innervation density, we measured radioligand binding to the plasma membrane serotonin transporter (SERT) in levodopa-treated dyskinetic and nondyskinetic subjects, using brain tissue from both rat and monkey models of Parkinson disease as well as parkinsonian patients. In addition, striatal tissue from dyskinetic rats was used for morphological and ultrastructural analyses of serotonin axon terminals, and for studies of stimulated [³H]dopamine release.
Results: Across all conditions examined, striatal levels of SERT radioligand binding were significantly elevated in dyskinetic subjects compared to nondyskinetic cases. In the rat striatum, dyskinesiogenic levodopa treatment had induced sprouting of serotonin axon varicosities having a relatively high synaptic incidence. This response was associated with increased depolarization-induced [³H]dopamine release and with a stronger release potentiation by brain-derived neurotrophic factor.
Interpretation: This study provides the first evidence that L-dopa treatment induces sprouting of serotonin axon terminals, with an increased incidence of synaptic contacts, and a larger activity-dependent potentiation of dopamine release in the dopamine-denervated striatum. Treatment-induced plasticity of the serotonin innervation may therefore represent a previously unappreciated cause of altered dopamine dynamics. These results are important for understanding the mechanisms by which L-dopa pharmacotherapy predisposes to dyskinesia, and for defining biomarkers of motor complications in Parkinsons disease.