The contribution of white matter lesions to Parkinson's disease motor and gait symptoms: a critical review of the literature

J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2016 Mar;123(3):241-50. doi: 10.1007/s00702-015-1470-9. Epub 2015 Oct 19.


White matter lesions (WML) associated with cerebrovascular disease (CVD) may be observed on magnetic resonance imaging in Parkinson's disease (PD) patients. WML are an important factor contributing to postural, gait, and cognitive impairment in the elderly without PD and worsening the course of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Numerous articles are available on this topic. Whether WML modify and negatively influence the clinical symptoms, and course of PD is a subject of debate. The aim of this review is to examine the available literature on the contribution of WML to PD motor symptoms in relation to clinical characteristics and methods of assessing WML on MRI. After reviewing the database, we identified 19 studies reporting the relationship between WML and PD; ten studies focusing on the impact of WML on the cognitive status in PD were excluded. We analysed altogether nine studies reporting the relationship between WML and motor signs of PD. The review found association between WML severity and freezing of gait, less significant to responsiveness to dopaminergic treatment and postural instability; no negative impact on tremor and falls was observed. The impact of WML on bradykinesia and rigidity was inconsistent. Comorbid WML is associated with worsening axial motor performance, probably independently from the degree of nigrostriatal dopaminergic denervation in PD. Reducing the vascular risk factors that cause WML may be helpful in preventing the development of axial symptoms and ultimately in improving the quality of life of patients with PD. Given the lack of systematic studies, additional research in this field is needed.

Keywords: Cerebrovascular disease; Magnetic resonance imaging; Parkinson’s disease; White matter lesions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / complications*
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / etiology
  • Humans
  • Parkinson Disease / complications*
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology*
  • White Matter / pathology*