Effects of levodopa on corticostriatal circuits supporting working memory in Parkinson's disease

Cortex. 2017 Aug;93:193-205. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2017.05.021. Epub 2017 Jun 7.


Working memory dysfunction is common in Parkinson's disease, even in its early stages, but its neural basis is debated. Working memory performance likely reflects a balance between corticostriatal dysfunction and compensatory mechanisms. We tested this hypothesis by examining working memory performance with a letter n-back task in 19 patients with mild-moderate Parkinson's disease and 20 demographically matched healthy controls. Parkinson's disease patients were tested after an overnight washout of their usual dopamine replacement therapy, and again after a standard dose of levodopa. FMRI was used to assess task-related activation and resting state functional connectivity; changes in BOLD signal were related to performance to disentangle pathological and compensatory processes. Parkinson's disease patients off dopamine replacement therapy displayed significantly reduced spatial extent of task-related activation in left prefrontal and bilateral parietal cortex, and poorer working memory performance, compared to controls. Amongst the Parkinson's disease patients off dopamine replacement therapy, relatively better performance was associated with greater activation of right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex compared to controls, consistent with compensatory right hemisphere recruitment. Administration of levodopa remediated the working memory deficit in the Parkinson's disease group, and resulted in a different pattern of performance-correlated activity, with a shift to greater left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activation in patients on, compared to off dopamine replacement therapy. Levodopa also significantly increased resting-state functional connectivity between caudate and right parietal cortex (within the right fronto-parietal attentional network). The strength of this connectivity contributed to better performance in patients and controls, suggesting a general compensatory mechanism. These findings argue that Parkinson's disease patients can recruit additional neural resources, here, the right fronto-parietal network, to optimize working memory performance despite impaired corticostriatal function. Levodopa seems to both boost engagement of a task-specific prefrontal region, and strengthen a putative compensatory caudate-cortical network to support this executive function.

Keywords: Caudate; Dopamine; Executive function; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Resting state functional connectivity.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine / therapeutic use
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Levodopa / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / drug therapy
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects*
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Parietal Lobe / drug effects
  • Parietal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Parkinson Disease / drug therapy*
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology


  • Levodopa
  • Dopamine

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