Free-water imaging of the cholinergic basal forebrain and pedunculopontine nucleus in Parkinson's disease

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Free-water imaging can predict and monitor dopamine system degeneration in people with Parkinson's disease. It can also enhance the sensitivity of traditional diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) metrics for indexing neurodegeneration. However, these tools are yet to be applied to investigate cholinergic system degeneration in Parkinson's disease, which involves both the pedunculopontine nucleus and cholinergic basal forebrain. Free-water imaging, free-water-corrected DTI and volumetry were used to extract structural metrics from the cholinergic basal forebrain and pedunculopontine nucleus in 99 people with Parkinson's disease and 46 age-matched controls. Cognitive ability was tracked over 4.5 years. Pearson's partial correlations revealed that free-water-corrected DTI metrics in the pedunculopontine nucleus were associated with performance on cognitive tasks that required participants to make rapid choices (behavioural flexibility). Volumetric, free-water content and DTI metrics in the cholinergic basal forebrain were elevated in a sub-group of people with Parkinson's disease with evidence of cognitive impairment, and linear mixed modelling revealed that these metrics were differently associated with current and future changes to cognition. Free water and free-water-corrected DTI can index cholinergic degeneration that could enable stratification of patients in clinical trials of cholinergic interventions for cognitive decline. In addition, degeneration of the pedunculopontine nucleus impairs behavioural flexibility in Parkinson's disease, which may explain this region's role in increased risk of falls.

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Wellcome Trust



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