MRIs show Parkinsonian diseases cause unique decline in functional brain activity

A new study allowed researchers to get a look at the way Parkinson’s disease patients’ brains changed over the course of a year through functional MRI scans. The changes observed through fMRI scans of multiple system atrophy (MSA) and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) patients’ and healthy controls’ brains were different across the groups.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, found that each disorder changed brain function in different ways. Functional activity did not change among the healthy participants but declined in certain areas in the participants with Parkinson's, MSA and PSP.

Researchers took fMRIs of 46 Parkinson's patients, 13 MSA patients, 19 PSP patients and 34 healthy control participants at the beginning of the study and again after one year to see how brain function had changed in certain regions.

After adjusting the results to account for age and sex, the control group did not show any changes in functional activity between the baseline scan and the one-year scan. But PD patients showed a decline in the putamen and primary motor cortex areas of the brain. And MSA patients showed reduced functional activity in the primary motor cortex, supplementary motor area and superior motor regions of the cerebellum. PSP patients showed the most areas with declining functional activity, with changes in the putamen, primary motor cortex, supplementary motor area and superior motor regions of the cerebellum, which were all of the areas studied.

According to the study authors, these results prove a difference in disease progression among the three related diseases.

“Collectively, these findings point to disease-specific noninvasive progression markers of sensorimotor brain regions in parkinsonian disorders,” the authors wrote.

This info, which the researchers said they believe is among the first of its kind, could provide insights for developing new treatments for parkinsonian disorders individually or as a whole, the authors suggested. It could provide a jumping off point for further cataloguing the differences in the subtypes of these diseases.