See Schrag and Politis (doi:10.1093/aww190) for a scientific commentary on this article.
Apathy, which can occur separately or in combination with depression and anxiety, is one of the most frequently encountered neuropsychiatric symptoms in Parkinson’s disease. Pathophysiological evidence suggests that parkinsonian apathy is primarily due to a mesolimbic dopaminergic denervation, but the role of the serotonergic alteration has never been examined, despite its well-known involvement in the pathogenesis of depression and anxiety. To fill this gap, we address here the pure model of de novo Parkinson’s disease, without the confounding effects of antiparkinsonian treatment. Fifteen apathetic (Lille Apathy Rating Scale scores ≥ −21) and 15 non-apathetic (−36 ≤ Lille Apathy Rating Scale scores ≤ −22) drug-naïve de novo parkinsonian patients were enrolled in the present study and underwent detailed clinical assessment and positron emission tomography imaging, using both dopaminergic [11C-N-(3-iodoprop-2E-enyl)-2-beta-carbomethoxy-3-beta-(4-methylphenyl)-nortropane (PE2I)] (n = 29) and serotonergic [11C-N,N-dimethyl-2-(-2-amino-4-cyanophenylthio)-benzylamine (DASB)] (n = 27) presynaptic transporter radioligands. Apathetic parkinsonian patients presented higher depression (P = 0.0004) and anxiety (P = 0.004) scores – as assessed using the Beck Depression Inventory and the part B of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, respectively – compared to the non-apathetic ones – who were not different from the age-matched healthy subjects (n = 15). Relative to the controls, the non-apathetic parkinsonian patients mainly showed dopaminergic denervation (n = 14) within the right caudate nucleus, bilateral putamen, thalamus and pallidum, while serotonergic innervation (n = 15) was fairly preserved. Apathetic parkinsonian patients exhibited, compared to controls, combined and widespread dopaminergic (n = 15) and serotonergic (n = 12) degeneration within the bilateral caudate nuclei, putamen, ventral striatum, pallidum and thalamus, but also a specific bilateral dopaminergic disruption within the substantia nigra–ventral tegmental area complex, as well as a specific serotonergic alteration within the insula, the orbitofrontal and the subgenual anterior cingulate cortices. When comparing the two parkinsonian groups, the apathetic patients mainly displayed greater serotonergic alteration in the ventral striatum, the dorsal and the subgenual parts of the anterior cingulate cortices, bilaterally, as well as in the right-sided caudate nucleus and the right-sided orbitofrontal cortex. Regression analyses also revealed that the severity of apathy was moreover mainly related to specific serotonergic lesions within the right-sided anterior caudate nucleus and the orbitofrontal cortex, while the degree of both depression and anxiety was primarily linked to serotonergic disruption within the bilateral subgenual parts and/or the right dorsal part of the anterior cingulate cortex, without prominent role of the dopaminergic degeneration in the pathogenesis of these three non-motor signs. Altogether, these findings highlight a prominent role of the serotonergic degeneration in the expression of the neuropsychiatric symptoms occurring at the onset of Parkinson’s disease.