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Abstract

There is increasing evidence for familial aggregation in Parkinson's disease (PD). It is possible that some asymptomatic relatives of PD patients have subclinical nigral Lewy body pathology and their identification could help determine the true prevalence of the disease. We used 18F-dopa positron emission tomography to investigate nigrostriatal dopaminergic terminal function in asymptomatic members of 7 unrelated kindreds in which at least 2 members had parkinsonism. Eight (25%) of the 32 asymptomatic relatives showed abnormal putamen 18F-dopa uptake (2.5 standard deviations below the normal mean). When discriminant function analysis was applied, all of these 8 subjects plus another 3 were classified with high probability as having PD. On neurological examination, 5 of the 32 relatives scanned had an isolated mild postural tremor and 2 of these 5 had reduced putamen uptake. Our findings provide further support for a role of inheritance in the etiology of PD and suggest that the penetrance for nigrostriatal dopaminergic dysfunction in familial clusters of PD is higher than the prevalence of clinical parkinsonism reported in epidemiological surveys.