Parkinson's disease (PD) is marked by the loss of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra (SN). Although the exact etiology is unknown, sporadic PD is hypothesized to be a result of genetic susceptibility interacting with environmental insult. Epidemiological studies suggest that pesticide exposure is linked to higher PD risk, but there are no studies demonstrating SN changes with chronic pesticide exposure in human subjects. Thus, high resolution T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor (DTI) images were obtained from 12 agricultural workers with chronic pesticide exposure, 12 controls, and 12 PD subjects. Neither controls nor pesticide-exposed subjects, had any parkinsonian symptoms. Exposure history to pesticides was assessed by a structured questionnaire. DTI measures in the SN, including fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), axial diffusivity (AD), and radial diffusivity (RD), were obtained for all subjects and compared among groups. Compared to controls, PD patients showed the expected significant changes in all DTI measurements in the SN. The pesticide-exposed subjects, compared to controls, had significantly lower FA values (p= 0.022, after multiple comparisons correction), but no significant differences in RD, MD, or AD measures. The study is the first to demonstrate microstructural changes in the SN of human subjects with chronic pesticide exposure. The changes detected by MRI may mark "one of the hits" leading to PD, and underlie the increased risk of PD in pesticide users found in epidemiological studies. Further human studies assisted by these imaging markers may be useful in understanding the etiology of PD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)60-64
Number of pages5
JournalNeurotoxicology and Teratology
StatePublished - Jan 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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