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Parkinson’s Patients Could Benefit from Simple Test

November 12, 2013 — The use of a simple test could help doctors gauge the extent of dopamine loss in people with Parkinson’s disease, according to a study presented this week by Georgetown researchers.at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting.

“It is very difficult now to assess the extent of dopamine loss – a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease – in people with the disease,” says lead author Katherine R. Gamble, a psychology Ph.D. student working with a Georgetown psychologist, a psychiatrist and a neurologist. “Use of this test may provide some help for physicians who treat people with Parkinson’s disease, but we still have much work to do to better understand its utility.

Dopamine is used by neurons and is critical to controlling muscle movement, the loss of which is a major factor of the disease. The dot test is a sequential learning task that does not require complex motor skills, which tend to decline in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Steven E. Lo  Dr. Steven E. Lo

Gamble works in the Cognitive Aging Laboratory, led by the study’s senior investigator, Darlene Howard, the department of psychology’s Davis Family Distinguished Professor. She is also a member of the interdisciplinary Georgetown Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery.

“This work is important in that it may be a non-invasive way to evaluate the level of dopamine deficiency in Parkinson’s patients … which may lead to future ways to improve clinical treatment,” explains co-author Dr. Steven E. Lo, an associate professor of neurology at Georgetown University Medical Center(GUMC).

In addition to Gamble, Lo and Howard, other authors of the study include Dr. Thomas J. Cummings Jr., GUMC assistant professor of psychiatry, and James H. Howard Jr., an adjunct professor of neurology at GUMC.

The study was supported by National Institutes of Health grant RO1AG036863.

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