Seeing the damage in the brain from Parkinson’s is problematic, but the smart folks at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have figured out how to better see brain structures in living patients. Researchers knit together four different MRI views into a single view that showed damage to structures deep in the brain like the substantia nigra, where the dopamine neurotransmitters live (or die, in the case of Parkinson’s folks).
A New York Times article (11/27/12) describes the new technique. The article further reports that this imaging adds support to a hypothesis that Parkinson’s first damages the substantia nigra (which impacts movement), and later progresses to the basal forebrain (impacts memory and attention). The images showed damage to both areas in Parkinson’s patients. The article ends with the cheery comment from the head researcher that this research is one step in determining whether all Parkinson’s patients will eventually get dementia. (Great….I hope that’s a very long “eventually”!)