Parkinson's disease is a heterogeneous disorder with both motor and non-motor symptoms that contribute to functional impairment. To develop effective, disease modifying treatments for these symptoms, biomarkers are necessary to detect neuropathological changes early in the disease course and monitor changes over time. Advances in MRI scan sequences and analytical techniques present numerous promising metrics to detect changes within the nigrostriatal system, implicated in the cardinal motor symptoms of the disease, and detect broader dysfunction involved in the non-motor symptoms, such as cognitive impairment. There is emerging evidence that iron sensitive, neuromelanin sensitive, diffusion sensitive, and resting state functional magnetic imaging measures can capture changes within the nigrostriatal system. Iron, neuromelanin, and diffusion sensitive measures demonstrate high specificity and sensitivity in distinguishing Parkinson's disease relative to controls, with inconsistent results differentiating Parkinson's disease relative to atypical parkinsonian disorders. They may also serve as useful monitoring biomarkers, with each possibly detecting different aspects of the disease course (early nigrosome changes versus broader substantia nigra changes). Investigations of non-motor symptoms, such as cognitive impairment, require careful consideration of the nature of cognitive deficits to characterize regional and network specific impairment. While the early, executive dysfunction observed is consistent with nigrostriatal degeneration, the memory and visuospatial impairments, the harbingers of a dementia process reflect dopaminergic independent dysfunction involving broader regions of the brain.
Keywords: Biomarker; Imaging; MRI; Motor; Non-Motor; Parkinson's disease.
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