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PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e56133. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0056133. Epub 2013 Feb 13.

Motor matters: tackling heterogeneity of Parkinson's disease in functional MRI studies.

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  • 1Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.


To tackle the heterogeneity of Parkinson's disease symptoms, most functional imaging studies tend to select a uniform group of subjects. We hypothesize that more profound considerations are needed to account for intra/inter-subject clinical variability and possibly for differing pathophysiological processes. Twelve patients were investigated using functional magnetic resonance imaging during visually-guided finger tapping. To account for disease heterogeneity, the motor score and individual symptom scores from the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS-III) were utilized in the group-level model using two approaches either as the explanatory variable or as the effect of interest. Employment of the UPDRS-III score and symptom scores was systematically tested on the resulting group response to the levodopa challenge, which further accentuated the diversity of the diseased state of participants. Statistics revealed a bilateral group response to levodopa in the basal ganglia. Interestingly, systematic incorporation of individual motor aspects of the disease in the modelling amended the resulting activity patterns conspicuously, evidencing a manifold amount of explained variability by the particular score. In conclusion, the severity of clinical symptoms expressed in the UPDRS-III scores should be considered in the analysis to attain unbiased statistics, draw reliable conclusions and allow for comparisons between research groups studying Parkinson's disease using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

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