Open Access Open Badges Research article

Signal alterations of the basal ganglia in the differential diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease: a retrospective case-controlled MRI data bank analysis

Sarah Jesse, Jan Kassubek*, Hans-Peter Müller, Albert C Ludolph and Alexander Unrath

Author Affiliations

Department of Neurology, University of Ulm, Ulm, Germany

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BMC Neurology 2012, 12:163  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-12-163

Published: 29 December 2012



Based upon the acquainted loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra in Parkinson’s disease (PD), we hypothesised changes in magnetic resonance imaging signal intensities of the basal ganglia to be useful as an additional technical tool in the diagnostic work-up.


Region-of-interest analyses (substantia nigra and globus pallidus internus) of T2-weighted scans were performed in seventy subjects with PD, 170 age- and gender-matched controls and 38 patients with an atypical form of neurodegenerative Parkinsonian syndrome (N = 11 multisystem atrophy, N = 22 progressive supranuclear palsy, N = 5 corticobasal syndrome).


In patients with PD, significant changes in signal intensities within the substantia nigra were observed compared to controls at p < 0.001. For the globus pallidus internus, signal alterations in PD and progressive supranuclear palsy were found to be significant (p < 0.001) if compared to controls. Furthermore, signal changes of substantia nigra correlated with signal intensities of globus pallidus internus in the ipsilateral hemisphere in both groups. Sensitivity was 86% and specificity was 90% for the combined analysis of substantia nigra and globus pallidus internus in the complete patient sample versus controls.


Signal alterations of substantia nigra and globus pallidus internus in routine magnetic resonance imaging were useful to distinguish patients with PD from controls. In addition, signal changes in globus pallidus internus could be used to differentiate progressive supranuclear palsy patients from controls. These analyses have the potential to serve as an additional non-invasive technical tool to support the individual differential diagnosis of PD.

Parkinson’s disease; MRI; Substantia nigra; Globus pallidus internus; Progressive supranuclear palsy; Morphological changes