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Kumakura, Yoshitaka and Cumming, Paul (2009): PET Studies of Cerebral Levodopa Metabolism: A Review of Clinical Findings and Modeling Approaches. In: The Neuroscientist, Vol. 15, No. 6: pp. 635-650 [PDF, 590kB]


[18F]Fluoro-3,4-dihydroxyphenyl-l-alanine (FDOPA) was one of the first successful tracers for molecular imaging by positron emission tomography (PET), and has proven immensely valuable for studies of Parkinson’s disease. Following intravenous FDOPA injection, the decarboxylated metabolite [18F] fluorodopamine is formed and trapped within terminals of the nigrostriatal dopamine neurons; reduction in the simple ratio between striatum and cerebellum is indicative of nigrostriatal degeneration. However, the kinetic analysis of dynamic FDOPA-PET recordings is formidably complex due to the entry into brain of the plasma metabolite O-methyl-FDOPA and due to the eventual washout of decarboxylated metabolites. Linear graphical analysis relative to a reference tissue input function is popular and convenient for routine clinical studies in which serial arterial blood samples are unavailable. This simplified approach has facilitated longitudinal studies in large patient cohorts. Linear graphical analysis relative to the metabolite-corrected arterial FDOPA input yields a more physiological index of FDOPA utilization, the net blood-brain clearance. Using a constrained compartmental model, FDOPA-PET recordings can be used to calculate the relative activity of the enzyme DOPA decarboxylase in living brain. We have extended this approach so as to obtain an index of steady-state trapping of [18F]fluorodopamine in synaptic vesicles. Although simple methods of image analysis are sufficient for the purposes of routine clinical studies, the more complex approaches have revealed hidden aspects of brain dopamine in personality, healthy aging, and in the pathophysiologies of Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.

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