The neurobiological basis of cognitive impairment in Parkinson's disease

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The recent formalization of clinical criteria for PD with dementia (PD-D) codifies many studies on this topic, including those assessing biological correlates. These studies show that the emergence of PD-D occurs on the background of severe dopamine deficits with the main pathological drivers of cognitive decline being a synergistic effect between α-synuclein and Alzheimer's disease pathology. The presence of these pathologies correlates with a marked loss of limbic and cortically projecting dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin and acetylcholine neurons, although the exact timing of these relationships remains to be determined. Genetic factors, such as triplications in the α-synuclein gene, lead to a clear increased risk of PD-D, while others, such as parkin mutations, are associated with a reduced risk of PD-D. The very recent formalization of clinical criteria for PD with mild cognitive impairment (PD-MCI) allows only speculation on its biological and genetic bases. Critical assessment of animal models shows that chronic low dose MPTP treatment in primates recapitulates PD-MCI over time, enhancing the current biological concept of PD-MCI as having enhanced dopamine deficiency in frontostriatal pathways as well as involvement of other neurotransmitter systems. Data from other animal models support multiple transmitter involvement in cognitive impairment in PD. While dopamine dysfunction has been highlighted because of its obvious role in PD, the role of the other neurotransmitter systems, neurodegenerative pathologies and genetic factors in PD-MCI remain to be fully elucidated.
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Halliday, Glenda
Leverenz, James B.
Schneider, Jay S.
Adler, Charles H.
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Journal Article
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UNSW Faculty
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