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Compr Physiol. 2014 Apr;4(2):805-26. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c130026.

Dysautonomia in Parkinson disease.

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Clinical Neurocardiology Section, Clinical Neurosciences Program, Division of Intramural Research, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.


Dysautonomias are conditions in which altered function of one or more components of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) adversely affects health. This review updates knowledge about dysautonomia in Parkinson disease (PD). Most PD patients have symptoms or signs of dysautonomia; occasionally, the abnormalities dominate the clinical picture. Components of the ANS include the sympathetic noradrenergic system (SNS), the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the sympathetic cholinergic system (SCS), the sympathetic adrenomedullary system (SAS), and the enteric nervous system (ENS). Dysfunction of each component system produces characteristic manifestations. In PD, it is cardiovascular dysautonomia that is best understood scientifically, mainly because of the variety of clinical laboratory tools available to assess functions of catecholamine systems. Most of this review focuses on this aspect of autonomic involvement in PD. PD features cardiac sympathetic denervation, which can precede the movement disorder. Loss of cardiac SNS innervation occurs independently of the loss of striatal dopaminergic innervation underlying the motor signs of PD and is associated with other nonmotor manifestations, including anosmia, REM behavior disorder, orthostatic hypotension (OH), and dementia. Autonomic dysfunction in PD is important not only in clinical management and in providing potential biomarkers but also for understanding disease mechanisms (e.g., autotoxicity exerted by catecholamine metabolites). Since Lewy bodies and Lewy neurites containing alpha-synuclein constitute neuropathologic hallmarks of the disease, and catecholamine depletion in the striatum and heart are characteristic neurochemical features, a key goal of future research is to understand better the link between alpha-synucleinopathy and loss of catecholamine neurons in PD.

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