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Brain activity declines over time with Parkinson’s disease

September 27, 2016
by Nicole Stempak, Senior Editor
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Researchers tracked changes in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease and, in the process, found a potential way to track the efficacy of future treatments. 
“If you know that in Parkinson’s disease the activity in a specific brain region is decreasing over the course of a year, it opens the door to evaluating a therapeutic to see if it can slow that reduction,” said senior author David Vaillancourt, PhD, professor at University of Florida’s Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology, in a press release. “It provides a marker for evaluating how treatments alter the chronic changes in brain physiology caused by Parkinson’s.”
Researchers conducted a longitudinal study of brain activity in 112 people with Parkinson’s disease and two forms of “atypical Parkinsonism”: multiple system atrophy (MSA) and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). They studied specific brain regions critical for movement and balance through task-based functional MRIs spaced a year apart, where they also were tested for grip strength. 
In their findings, published in the journal Neurology, researchers reported a decline in neural activity in certain brain areas after a year for all three diseases but no changes in functional activity for the control group. 
They also saw more widespread and unique patterns of functional changes in PD, suggesting distinct rates of disease progression that may help researchers test the potential efficacy of disease-modifying therapies in future clinical trials. Current medications on the market can reduce neuron loss in the brain but none can prevent the destruction of cells. 
The National Institute’s of Health’s Parkinson’s Disease Biomarkers Program funded the study. 
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