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‘REM sleep behavior disorder may indicate Parkinson’s’
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2018.01.23 11:14
  • Updated 2018.01.23 15:37
  • comments 0

A Korean research team has found a new way to predict the progression of Parkinson’s disease in patients with REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, a local hospital said Tuesday.

Although Parkinson’s was discovered over 200 years ago, the cause of the disease remains unknown. However, a recent study is now suggesting that RBD, characterized by talking in one’s sleep or acting out one’s dreams, can serve as a powerful indicator for Parkinson’s.

According to the research by Seoul National University Bundang Hospital (SNUBH), more than 50 percent of people with RBD will suffer from Parkinson’s disease within a few years.

Professors Kim Jong-min (left) and Bae Yun-jung at SNUBH

The research team, led by SNUBH professors Kim Jong-min and Bae Yun-jung, aimed to use MRI scans to uncover particular characteristics of people with RBD who eventually develop Parkinson’s.

The two-year follow-up study encompassed 54 individuals – 18 with RBD, 18 with Parkinson’s, and 18 without the disease – who had a brain MRI scan between 2014 and 2015.

According to SNUBH, researchers found a significant difference in the MRI scans of those who developed Parkinson's disease and those who did not.

Analysis showed seven out of 18 RBD patients who did not develop Parkinson’s had white, round parts (nigrosomes) in their brain MRI scans, just like the individuals who were disease-free.

An MRI scan of a standard RBD patient who did not develop Parkinson’s (left) and that of an RBD patient who developed Parkinson’s.

However, findings showed the remaining 11 RBD patients who did not display the white and round parts developed Parkinson’s disease within one to two years. Researchers also noted the lack of this characteristic in all 18 patients with Parkinson’s disease, the hospital said.

RBD patients who did not display white and round parts in their MRI scans were also 7.13 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s than those who did, the analysis showed.

“The study is meaningful because we will be able to diagnose and treat Parkinson’s early by predicting which patients with REM sleep disorders have a high possibility of developing the disease,” said Professor Kim Jong-min who led the study.

“I advise patients who exhibit abnormal sleep behavior to get an accurate diagnosis as it is possible to accurately predict the progression of Parkinson’s disease with a simple MRI scan that has no side effects,” said Professor Bae Yun-jung.

If future MRI techniques are further developed to monitor the progression and onset of Parkinson's disease from REM sleep behavior disorder, physicians will be able to identify the exact cause of Parkinson's disease and develop fundamental therapies and preventive measures, Kim added.

The study was published in the international journal Radiology.


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