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PLoS One. 2013 Aug 15;8(8):e71341. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071341. eCollection 2013.

Cognitive dysfunction precedes the onset of motor symptoms in the MitoPark mouse model of Parkinson's disease.

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Department of Pharmacology, The University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, Texas, United States of America ; Department of Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, Texas, United States of America ; Department of Neurology, Shandong Provincial Qianfoshan Hospital, Shandong University, Jinan, P.R. China.


Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder primarily characterized by progressive loss of dopamine neurons, leading to loss of motor coordination. However, PD is associated with a high rate of non-motor neuropsychiatric comorbities that often develop before the onset of movement symptoms. The MitoPark transgenic mouse model is the first to recapitulate the cardinal clinical features, namely progressive neurodegeneration and death of neurons, loss of motor function and therapeutic response to L-DOPA. To investigate whether MitoPark mice exhibit early onset of cognitive impairment, a non-motor neuropsychiatric comorbidity, we measured performance on a spatial learning and memory task before (∼8 weeks) or after (∼20 weeks) the onset of locomotor decline in MitoPark mice or in littermate controls. Consistent with previous studies, we established that a progressive loss of spontaneous locomotor activity began at 12 weeks of age, which was followed by progressive loss of body weight beginning at 16-20 weeks. Spatial learning and memory was measured using the Barnes Maze. By 20 weeks of age, MitoPark mice displayed a substantial reduction in overall locomotor activity that impaired their ability to perform the task. However, in the 8-week-old mice, locomotor activity was no different between genotypes, yet MitoPark mice took longer, traveled further and committed more errors than same age control mice, while learning to successfully navigate the maze. The modest between-day learning deficit of MitoPark mice was characterized by impaired within-day learning during the first two days of testing. No difference was observed between genotypes during probe trials conducted one or twelve days after the final acquisition test. Additionally, 8-week-old MitoPark mice exhibited impaired novel object recognition when compared to control mice. Together, these data establish that mild cognitive impairment precedes the loss of motor function in a novel rodent model of PD, which may provide unique opportunities for therapeutic development.

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