Description of Parkinson's Disease as a Clinical Syndrome


Address for correspondence: Dr. Stanley Fahn, Neurological Institute, 710 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032. Voice: 212-305-5295; fax: 212-305-3530.


Abstract: Parkinsonism is a clinical syndrome comprising combinations of motor problems—namely, bradykinesia, resting tremor, rigidity, flexed posture, “freezing,” and loss of postural reflexes. Parkinson's disease (PD) is the major cause of parkinsonism. PD is a slowly progressive parkinsonian syndrome that begins insidiously and usually affects one side of the body before spreading to involve the other side. Pathology shows loss of neuromelanin-containing monoamine neurons, particularly dopamine (DA) neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta. A pathologic hallmark is the presence of cytoplasmic eosinophilic inclusions (Lewy bodies) in monoamine neurons. The loss of DA content in the nigrostriatal neurons accounts for many of the motor symptoms, which can be ameliorated by DA replacement therapy—that is, levodopa. Most cases are sporadic, of unknown etiology; but rare cases of monogenic mutations (10 genes at present count) show that there are multiple causes for the neuronal degeneration. The pathogenesis of PD remains unknown. Clinical fluctuations and dyskinesias are frequent complications of levodopa therapy; these, as well as some motor features of PD, improve by resetting the abnormal brain physiology towards normal by surgical therapy. Nonmotor symptoms (depression, lack of motivation, passivity, and dementia) are common. As the disease progresses, even motor symptoms become intractable to therapy. No proven means of slowing progression have yet been found.