Parkinson's disease, cortical dysfunction, and alpha-synuclein§


  • Relevant conflicts of interest/financial disclosures: Nothing to report.

  • This work was funded by a gift of Beth and Larry Johnson, the Mayo Clinic Foundation for Medical Research, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (Prescott Family Initiative), Arizona Disease Control Research Commission (contracts 04-800, 4001, and 05-901), Arizona Biomedical Research Commission (contracts 0011 and 1001), and federal grant P30 AG019610.

  • §

    Full financial disclosures and author roles may be found in the online version of this article.


The ability to understand how Parkinson's disease neurodegeneration leads to cortical dysfunction will be critical for developing therapeutic advances in Parkinson's disease dementia. The overall purpose of this project was to study the small-amplitude cortical myoclonus in Parkinson's disease as an in vivo model of focal cortical dysfunction secondary to Parkinson's disease neurodegeneration. The objectives were to test the hypothesis that cortical myoclonus in Parkinson's disease is linked to abnormal levels of α-synuclein in the primary motor cortex and to define its relationship to various biochemical, clinical, and pathological measures. The primary motor cortex was evaluated for 11 Parkinson's disease subjects with and 8 without electrophysiologically confirmed cortical myoclonus (the Parkinson's disease + myoclonus group and the Parkinson's disease group, respectively) who had premortem movement and cognitive testing. Similarly assessed 9 controls were used for comparison. Measurements for α-synuclein, Aβ-42 peptide, and other biochemical measures were made in the primary motor cortex. A 36% increase in α-synuclein was found in the motor cortex of Parkinson's disease + myoclonus cases when compared with Parkinson's disease without myoclonus. This occurred without significant differences in insoluble α-synuclein, phosphorylated to total α-synuclein ratio, or Aβ-42 peptide levels. Higher total motor cortex α-synuclein levels significantly correlated with the presence of cortical myoclonus but did not correlate with multiple clinical or pathological findings. These results suggest an association between elevated α-synuclein and the dysfunctional physiology arising from the motor cortex in Parkinson's disease + myoclonus cases. Alzheimer's disease pathology was not associated with cortical myoclonus in Parkinson's disease. Cortical myoclonus arising from the motor cortex is a model to study cortical dysfunction in Parkinson's disease. © 2011 Movement Disorder Society