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Brain Scan Detects Early Parkinson’s

Brain Scan Detects Early Parkinson'sResearchers from Oxford University have developed a simple and quick MRI technique that can detect early-stage Parkinson’s disease with 85 percent accuracy. The study is published in the journal Neurology.

“At the moment we have no way to predict who is at risk of Parkinson’s disease in the vast majority of cases,” said Clare Mackay, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University, one of the joint lead researchers. “We are excited that this MRI technique might prove to be a good marker for the earliest signs of Parkinson’s. The results are very promising.”

Those with Parkinson’s disease experience tremors, slow movements, and stiff and inflexible muscles. The disease is triggered by the progressive loss of a particular set of nerve cells in the brain. This damage often goes on for a long time before symptoms become apparent.

Although there is no cure for the disease, there are treatments that can reduce symptoms and maintain quality of life.

“This new research takes us one step closer to diagnosing Parkinson’s at a much earlier stage — one of the biggest challenges facing research into the condition,” said Claire Bale, research communications manager at Parkinson’s UK.

“By using a new, simple scanning technique the team at Oxford University has been able to study levels of activity in the brain which may suggest that Parkinson’s is present. One person every hour is diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the UK, and we hope that the researchers are able to continue to refine their test so that it can one day be part of clinical practice,” she added.

Conventional MRI scans are unable to detect early signs of Parkinson’s, so the Oxford researchers used an MRI technique, called resting-state fMRI, in which patients continue to remain in the scanner. Researchers then observed the brain network connectivity in the basal ganglia, a region of the brain known to be involved in Parkinson’s disease.

The study involved 19 people with early-stage Parkinson’s disease (not on medication) and 19 healthy controls, matched for age and gender. They found that the Parkinson’s patients had much lower connectivity in the basal ganglia.

The researchers were able to determine a specific threshold level of connectivity. Falling below this level would reveal who had Parkinson’s disease with 100 percent sensitivity (it picked up everyone with Parkinson’s) and 89.5 percent specificity (there were few false positives).

“Our MRI approach showed a very strong difference in connectivity between those who had Parkinson’s disease and those that did not. So much so, that we wondered if it was too good to be true and carried out a validation test in a second group of patients. We got a similar result the second time,” said Mackay.

The scientists used this technique to test a second group of 13 early-stage Parkinson’s patients. They correctly identified 11 out of the 13 patients (85 percent accuracy).

Source: University of Oxford


Abstract of brain photo by shutterstock.

Brain Scan Detects Early Parkinson’s

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Brain Scan Detects Early Parkinson’s. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 14 Jun 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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