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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2011 Sep;66(9):980-5. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glr060. Epub 2011 Jul 11.

Age-related striatal dopaminergic denervation and severity of a slip perturbation.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.



Striatal dopamine activity declines with normal aging. Age-related striatal dopaminergic denervation (SDD) has been implicated in standing balance and unperturbed gait. The goal of this study was to analyze the association between the degree of SDD and the magnitude of an unexpected slip perturbation induced during gait.


Fifty healthy participants aged 20-86 years old underwent dopamine transporter positron emission tomography to classify SDD severity as mild, moderate, or severe. Participants also walked on a floor that was unexpectedly contaminated with a glycerol solution for gait testing. The magnitude of a slip was quantified using the peak slip velocity (PSV), measured at the slipping foot. Data were analyzed for both fast (greater than 1.2 m/s) and slow walkers as gait speed correlated with slip severity. All data analyses were age adjusted.


Greater severity of dopaminergic denervation in the caudate nucleus was correlated with higher PSV (p < .01) but only in the fast speed walking group. The relationship between SDD in the putamen and slip severity was not statistically significant in fast and slow walkers.


Age-related SDD may impact the ability to recover from large perturbations during walking in individuals who typically walk fast. This effect, prominent in the caudate nucleus, may implicate a role of cognitive frontostriatal pathways in the executive control of gait when balance is challenged by large perturbations. Finally, a cautious gait behavior present in slow walkers may explain the apparent lack of involvement of striatal dopaminergic pathways in postural responses to slips.

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