Predicting cognitive impairment in people with Parkinson’s disease

Dr. Alexandru Hanganu
Assistant Professor
University of Montreal
New Investigator Award
$88,432 over 2 years
Impact of neuropsychiatric symptoms on brain’s microstructure, function, plasticity and their potential to predict individual cognitive performance in Parkinson’s disease

Dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment are one of the most distressing symptoms of late-stage Parkinson’s disease. Currently, there’s no way to predict who will develop them, or to intervene early if treatments are discovered.

At the University of Montreal, Dr. Alexandru Hanganu, an assistant professor, is developing an algorithm to predict who is at risk for these cognitive problems. He’s using his expertise in neuroimaging to chart the changes that occur in the brains of people with Parkinson’s who also experience depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances or impulse control difficulties. These are called neuropsychiatric symptoms.

Hanganu believes people with these symptoms are at risk of Parkinson’s, even if they haven’t yet been diagnosed with the illness.

“My hypothesis is that neuropsychiatric symptoms can be used to predict the evolution of Parkinson’s disease and its appearance, the first stage being the prediction of cognitive performance,” he says.

Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Hanganu will scan the brains of people with Parkinson’s who have already been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, and who also have some neuropsychiatric symptoms. He’s comparing those results to scans of people with Parkinson’s who don’t have cognitive impairment, but do have depression, anxiety, or other neuropsychiatric symptoms.

“My hypothesis is that neuropsychiatric symptoms can predict current and future cognitive performance as well as the appearance and evolution of Parkinson’s disease.”

Hanganu will give each person in his study one burst of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, a noninvasive technology that uses a magnetic field to stimulate areas of the brain. He’ll measure the changes in the brain after TMS to see how these people’s brains can adapt to changes.

Hanganu will then combine that data with data from a large, online archive of brain scans.