Correlation of striatal dopamine transporter imaging with post mortem substantia nigra cell counts

Mov Disord. 2014 Dec;29(14):1767-73. doi: 10.1002/mds.25975. Epub 2014 Jul 22.


Dopamine transporter imaging is widely used for the differential diagnosis of parkinsonism. Only limited data are available on the relationship between striatal dopamine transporter binding and dopaminergic cell loss in the substantia nigra (SN). We analyzed postmortem SN cell counts in patients who had previously undergone dopamine transporter single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). Pathological diagnoses included Parkinson's disease (n = 1), dementia with Lewy bodies (n = 2), multiple system atrophy (n = 1), corticobasal degeneration (n = 2), atypical parkinsonism with multiple pathological conditions (n = 1), Alzheimer's disease (n = 1), and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (n = 1). [(12) (3) I]β-CIT SPECT had been performed in all subjects using a standardized protocol on the same triple-head gamma camera. The density of neuromelanin-containing and tyrosine hydroxylase-positive substantia nigra neurons/mm(2) was evaluated in paraffin-embedded tissue sections by morphometric methods. Mean disease duration at the time of dopamine transporter imaging was 2.3 years, and the mean interval from imaging to death was 29.3 months (range, 4-68 months). Visual analysis of dopamine transporter images showed reduced striatal uptake in all seven patients with neurodegenerative parkinsonism, but not in Alzheimer's and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease cases. Averaged [(right+left)/2] striatal uptake was highly correlated with averaged SN cell counts (rs = 0.98, P < 0.0005 for neuromelanin- and rs = 0.96, P < 0.0005 for tyrosine hydroxylase-positive cells). Similar strong correlations were found in separate analyses for the right and left sides. Striatal dopamine transporter binding highly correlated with postmortem SN cell counts, confirming the validity of dopamine transporter imaging as an excellent in vivo marker of nigrostriatal dopaminergic degeneration.

Keywords: cell count; dopamine transporter; iodine-123-2β-carbomethoxy-3β-(4-iodophenyl)tropane ([123I]β-CIT); single-photon emission computed tomography; substantia nigra.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Autopsy / methods
  • Cell Count / methods
  • Corpus Striatum / pathology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neostriatum / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / diagnosis
  • Substantia Nigra / pathology*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon / methods


  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Dopamine