Sunday, December 16, 2012

Parkinson's and the Substantia Nigra

Did you know that Parkinson’s disease currently affects 1 to 2 percent of people over 65, totaling about five million people worldwide? A new imaging technique, which combines several types of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), has been developed at MIT. A study using this new technique (reported in the November 26, 2012, online edition of the Archives of Neurology), is the first to provide clinical evidence for the theory that Parkinson’s neurodegeneration begins deep in the brain and advances upward.  The researchers scanned the brains of 29 early-stage Parkinson’s patients and compared the scans  with those of normal brains. The results? Early on in Parkinson’s patients, there was a significant loss of volume in the substantia nigra (an area deep in the brain that produces dopamine and plays a role in reward, addiction, and movement). This was followed by loss of basal forebrain volume later in the disease. Researchers hope to use the same imaging technique to determine whether degeneration of the two areas is correlated or if they deteriorate independently of one another.

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