Study Rationale: Changes in intestinal contractions are a common feature of early Parkinson’s disease (PD). These changes, which often occur before the onset of movement symptoms, are tied to the accumulation of alpha-synuclein in nerves surrounding the intestine. In this study, we will use a specialized form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to search for specific patterns of abnormal gut motility related to early PD. Because this alteration in gut motility reflects an accumulation of alpha-synuclein, this feature can be used as a marker for assessing the effectiveness of treatments that target alpha-synuclein.
Hypotheses: We hypothesize that altered intestinal motility is an early feature of PD that can be detected by a specialized, fast MRI scan. The ability to monitor these alterations could facilitate early diagnosis and the assessment of treatment efficacy.
Study Design: We will perform specialized, fast MRI scans to assess intestinal motility across the entire gastrointestinal tract in individuals with or without PD, or who have a genetic risk for PD—in this case, mutations in glucocerebrosidase. The study will include 20 subjects in each of five groups: healthy controls, people with early untreated PD (with or without a genetic predisposition) and people with more advanced PD (again, with and without a genetic predisposition). We will then use complex computer-based analyses to identify changes that are specific to early and late PD, and potentially those with a genetic risk.
Impact on Diagnosis/Treatment of Parkinson’s disease: This project has the potential to identify early PD before movement problems develop, particularly in those with a potential genetic risk for PD. The findings will improve our understanding of the pattern of intestinal nerve involvement in PD.
Next Steps for Development: This MRI scan could be used to identify early PD before movement problems begin and be used to assess individuals’ response to treatment.