Abstract

Background

Dopamine loss beyond the mesostriatal system might be relevant in pathogenic mechanisms and some clinical manifestations in PD. The primate thalamus is densely and heterogeneously innervated with dopaminergic axons, most of which express the dopamine transporter, as does the nigrostriatal system. We hypothesized that dopamine depletion may be present in the thalamus of the parkinsonian brain and set out to ascertain possible regional differences.

Methods

The toxin 1‐methyl‐4‐phenyl‐1,2,3,6‐tetrahydropyridine was administered to adult macaque monkeys using a slow intoxication protocol. The treated macaques were classified into 2 groups according to their motor status: nonsymptomatic and parkinsonian. Dopamine innervation was studied with immunohistochemistry for the dopamine transporter. Topographic maps of the dopamine transporter‐immunoreactive axon distribution were generated and the total length and length density of these axons stereologically estimated using a 3‐dimensional fractionator.

Results

Parkinsonian macaques exhibited lower dopamine transporter‐immunoreactive axon length density than controls in mediodorsal and centromedian‐parafascicular nuclei. Dopamine denervation in the mediodorsal nucleus was already noticeable in nonsymptomatic macaques and was even greater in parkinsonian macaques. Reticular nucleus dopamine transporter‐immunoreactive axon length density presented an inverse pattern, increasing progressively to the maximum density seen in parkinsonian macaques. No changes were observed in ventral thalamic nuclei. Dopamine transporter‐immunoreactive axon maps supported the quantitative findings.

Conclusions

Changes in the dopamine innervation of various thalamic nuclei are heterogeneous and start in the premotor parkinsonian stage. These changes may be involved in some poorly understood nonmotor manifestations of PD. © 2019 International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society

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