Objective: To investigate in vivo the impact of age on nigrostriatal dopamine dysfunction in Parkinson's disease (PD).
Methods: PD patients (n = 78) and healthy control subjects (n = 35) underwent longitudinal positron emission tomography assessments using 3 presynaptic dopamine markers: (1) [¹¹C](±)dihydrotetrabenazine (DTBZ), to estimate the density of the vesicular monoamine transporter type 2; (2) [¹¹C]d-threo-methylphenidate, to estimate the density of the plasma membrane dopamine transporter; and (3) 6-[¹⁸F]-fluoro-L-dopa, to estimate the activity of the enzyme dopa-decarboxylase.
Results: The study comprised 438 PD scans and 241 control scans (679 scans in total). At symptom onset, the loss of putamen DTBZ binding was substantially greater in younger compared to older PD patients (p = 0.015). Remarkably, however, the rate of progression of DTBZ binding loss was significantly slower in younger patients (p < 0.05). The estimated presymptomatic phase of the disease spanned more than 2 decades in younger patients, compared to 1 decade in older patients.
Interpretation: Our results suggest that, compared to older patients, younger PD patients progress more slowly and are able to endure more damage to the dopaminergic system before the first motor symptoms appear. These observations suggest that younger PD patients have more efficient compensatory mechanisms.
Copyright © 2011 American Neurological Association.