Background: Differentiation of Parkinson's disease (PD) from the various types of atypical parkinsonism (AP) such as multiple system atrophy (MSA), progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), corticobasal syndrome (CBS) and vascular parkinsonism (VP), can be challenging, especially early in the disease course when symptoms overlap. A major unmet need in the diagnostic workup of these disorders is a diagnostic tool that differentiates the various disorders, preferably in the earliest disease stages when the clinical presentation is similar. Many diagnostic tests have been evaluated, but their added value was studied mostly in retrospective case-control studies that included patients with a straightforward clinical diagnosis. Here, we describe the design of a prospective cohort study in patients with parkinsonism in an early disease stage who have an uncertain clinical diagnosis. Our aim is to evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of (1) detailed clinical examination by a movement disorder specialist, (2) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques and (3) cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarkers.
Methods/design: Patients with parkinsonism with an uncertain clinical diagnosis and a disease course less than three years will be recruited. Patients will undergo extensive neurological examination, brain MRI including conventional and advanced sequences, and a lumbar puncture. The diagnosis (including level of certainty) will be defined by a movement disorders expert, neuroradiologist and neurochemist based on clinical data, MRI results and CSF results, respectively. The clinical diagnosis after three years' follow-up will serve as the "gold standard" reference diagnosis, based on consensus criteria and as established by two movement disorder specialists (blinded to the test results). Diagnostic accuracy of individual instruments and added value of brain MRI and CSF analysis after evaluation by a movement disorder expert will be calculated, expressed as the change in percentage of individuals that are correctly diagnosed with PD or AP.
Discussion: This study will yield new insights into the diagnostic value of clinical evaluation by a movement disorder specialist, brain MRI and CSF analysis in discriminating PD from AP in early disease stages. The outcome has the potential to help clinicians in choosing the optimal diagnostic strategy for patients with an uncertain clinical diagnosis.
Trial registration: NCT01249768, registered November 26 2010.
Keywords: Atypical parkinsonism; Cerebrospinal fluid; Differential diagnosis; MRI; Parkinson’s disease.