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Keywords:

  • dopamine;
  • nigrostriatal;
  • ageing

Abstract

Background

Brain dopamine has been the focus of numerous studies owing to its crucial role in motor function and in neurological and psychiatric disease processes. Whilst early work relied on postmortem data, functional imaging has allowed a more sophisticated approach to the quantification of receptor density, affinity and functional capacity. This review aims to summarise changes in the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system which accompany normal ageing.

Methods

A literature search focussed on postmortem and neuroimaging studies of normal ageing within the nigrostriatal dopaminergic tract. The functional significance of age-related effects was also considered.

Results

There are significant reductions in pre- and post-synaptic markers of brain dopamine activity during normal ageing: However the rate of decline (linear or exponential), the effects of gender and heterogeneity and the mechanisms by which these changes occur remain undetermined. Limited data suggest there is a significant association between postsynaptic receptor density and specific aspects of motor and cognitive function.

Conclusion

The identification of strategies to improve dopaminergic transmission may delay the onset of motor and cognitive deficits associated with normal ageing. In order to develop effective preventative strategies, the causative mechanisms underlying age-related changes and the interaction between synaptic structure and function need to be more clearly elucidated. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.