Objectives: To assess the neurobiological substrate of initial cognitive decline in Parkinson's disease (PD) to inform patient management, clinical trial design, and development of treatments.
Methods: We longitudinally assessed, up to 3 years, 423 newly diagnosed patients with idiopathic PD, untreated at baseline, from 33 international movement disorder centers. Study outcomes were four determinations of cognitive impairment or decline, and biomarker predictors were baseline dopamine transporter (DAT) single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scan, structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI; volume and thickness), diffusion tensor imaging (mean diffusivity and fractional anisotropy), cerebrospinal fluid (CSF; amyloid beta [Aβ], tau and alpha synuclein), and 11 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) previously associated with PD cognition. Additionally, longitudinal structural MRI and DAT scan data were included. Univariate analyses were run initially, with false discovery rate = 0.2, to select biomarker variables for inclusion in multivariable longitudinal mixed-effect models.
Results: By year 3, cognitive impairment was diagnosed in 15-38% participants depending on the criteria applied. Biomarkers, some longitudinal, predicting cognitive impairment in multivariable models were: (1) dopamine deficiency (decreased caudate and putamen DAT availability); (2) diffuse, cortical decreased brain volume or thickness (frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobe regions); (3) co-morbid Alzheimer's disease Aβ amyloid pathology (lower CSF Aβ 1-42); and (4) genes (COMT val/val and BDNF val/val genotypes).
Conclusions: Cognitive impairment in PD increases in frequency 50-200% in the first several years of disease, and is independently predicted by biomarker changes related to nigrostriatal or cortical dopaminergic deficits, global atrophy due to possible widespread effects of neurodegenerative disease, co-morbid Alzheimer's disease plaque pathology, and genetic factors.