Brainstem Pathologies Correlate With Depression and Psychosis in Parkinson's Disease

Nicole Mercado Fischer, Jared T. Hinkle, Kate Perepezko, Catherine C. Bakker, Meaghan Morris, Martinus P.G. Broen, Ankur Butala, Ted M. Dawson, Albert F.G. Leentjens, Zoltan Mari, Cherie L. Marvel, Kelly A. Mills, Liana S. Rosenthal, Melissa D. Shepard, Alexander Pantelyat, Arnold Bakker, Olga Pletnikova, Juan C. Troncoso, Jiangxia Wang, Gregory M. Pontone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: The pathological hallmarks of Parkinson's disease include intraneuronal Lewy bodies, neuronal loss, and gliosis. We aim to correlate Parkinson's disease neuropsychiatric symptoms, (e.g., depression, psychosis, and anxiety) with the severity of neuropathology in the substantia nigra and locus coeruleus. Methods: The brains of 175 participants with a primary pathologic diagnosis of Parkinson's disease were analyzed semi-quantitatively to ascertain the burden of neuronal loss and gliosis and Lewy body pathology within the locus coeruleus and substantia nigra. Participants’ history of anxiety, depression, and psychosis were determined using a chart-extracted medical history or record of formal psychiatric evaluation. Results: Of the sample, 56% (n = 98), 50% (n = 88), and 31.25% (n = 55) of subjects had a diagnosis of psychosis, depression, and anxiety, respectively. Psychosis (χ2 = 7.1, p = 0.008, df = 1) and depression (χ2 = 7.2, p = 0.007, df = 1) were associated with severe neuronal loss and gliosis in the substantia nigra but not in the locus coeruleus. No association was observed between anxiety and neuronal loss and gliosis in either region. No neuropsychiatric symptoms were associated with Lewy body score. After controlling for disease duration and dementia, psychosis (odds ratio [OR]: 3.1, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.5–6.4, χ2 = 9.4, p = 0.012, df = 1) and depression (OR: 2.6, 95% CI: 1.3–5.0, χ2 = 7.9, p = 0.005, df = 1) remained associated with severe neuronal loss and gliosis in the substantia nigra. Conclusion: These results suggest that psychosis and depression in Parkinson's disease are associated with the underlying neurodegenerative process and demonstrate that cell loss and gliosis may be a better marker of neuropsychiatric symptoms than Lewy body pathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)958-968
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Depression
  • Parkinson's disease
  • neuropathology
  • psychosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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