Purpose of review: Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a comorbid factor in Parkinson's disease. The aim of this review is to examine the recent neuroimaging findings in the search for Parkinson's disease MCI (PD-MCI) biomarkers to gain insight on whether MCI and specific cognitive deficits in Parkinson's disease implicate striatal dopamine or another system.
Recent findings: The evidence implicates a diffuse pathophysiology in PD-MCI rather than acute dopaminergic involvement. On the one hand, performance in specific cognitive domains, notably in set-shifting and learning, appears to vary with dopaminergic status. On the other hand, motivational states in Parkinson's disease along with their behavioral and physiological indices suggest a noradrenergic contribution to cognitive deficits in Parkinson's disease. Finally, Parkinson's disease's pattern of neurodegeneration offers an avenue for continued research in nigrostriatal dopamine's role in distinct behaviors, as well as the specification of dorsal and ventral striatal functions.
Summary: The search for PD-MCI biomarkers has employed an array of neuroimaging techniques, but still yields divergent findings. This may be due in part to MCI's broad definition, encompassing heterogeneous cognitive domains, only some of which are affected in Parkinson's disease. Most domains falling under the MCI umbrella include fronto-dependent executive functions, whereas others, notably learning, rely on the basal ganglia. Given the deterioration of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system in Parkinson's disease, it has been the prime target of PD-MCI investigation. By testing well defined cognitive deficits in Parkinson's disease, distinct functions can be attributed to specific neural systems, overcoming conflicting results on PD-MCI. Apart from dopamine, other systems such as the neurovascular or noradrenergic systems are affected in Parkinson's disease. These factors may be at the basis of specific facets of PD-MCI for which dopaminergic involvement has not been conclusive. Finally, the impact of both dopaminergic and noradrenergic deficiency on motivational states in Parkinson's disease is examined in light of a plausible link between apathy and cognitive deficits.