In the largest collaborative MRI study on Parkinson’s disease to date, coordinated by Prof. dr. Ysbrand van der Werf and PhD candidate Max Laansma of Amsterdam UMC, the anatomical scans and clinical data of 2357 persons with Parkinson’s disease and 1182 healthy controls were investigated. Their findings offer new insights into patterns of abnormal brain structure in Parkinson’s disease and how these relate to clinical staging. The study will be published in the journal Movement Disorders.

Multicenter collaboration

The Parkinson’s disease working group is part of the ENIGMA consortium, focused on elucidating imaging and genetic biomarkers of disease through worldwide collaboration. The present study was led by Ysbrand van der werf, Max Laansma, and Joanna Bright (USC), and co-authored by Chris Vriend, Odile van den Heuvel, Henk Berendse, and Rob de Bie of the Amsterdam UMC. The publication in Movement Disorders presents the analysis of cortical and subcortical morphology in an unprecedented large sample.

Widespread abnormalities in brain structure

Laansma and colleagues demonstrated that, compared to healthy controls, the cortex of persons with Parkinson’s disease was thinner in 38 of 68 regions. The bilateral putamen and left amygdala were smaller, while the thalamus was larger. Notably, the analyses on disease staging and cognitive performance revealed patterns of abnormal brain structure on cortical and subcortical level that were strongly in line with an ongoing neurodegenerative process.

Graphic illustration of the brain supported by a cortical thickness scale

Implications and future research

These findings offer novel insights in the relationship between clinical and biological staging of Parkinson’s disease, highlighting the importance of adequately powered multicenter studies in the search for biomarkers. As the working group is expanding with new data, the researchers will focus on investigating disease subtypes and the potential of data-driven approaches to predict disease outcome, in a population-based sample.

Read the preprint of the article in Movement Disorders: An International Multicenter Analysis of Brain Structure across Clinical Stages of Parkinson’s Disease: The ENIGMA-Parkinson’s Study