The Role of Dopamine in Depression

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disorder that typically begins with minor motor impairments and eventually progresses to severe immobility, as well as mood and cognitive dysfunction. About 40 per cent of patients experience major depression, marked by hopelessness, inability to experience pleasure, suicidal thoughts and delusions/hallucinations. While depression is an understandable reaction to living with a chronic and potentially debilitating illness, the rate of depression in PD patients is nearly double the rate of depression seen in comparably disabled patients with other chronic illnesses, indicating the likelihood of a neurochemical element. Common to this motor disorder and mood disorder is the neurochemical dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in many brain activities, including movement and emotion. Elliott Bogusz is investigating the role of dopamine as it relates to depression in Parkinson’s disease patients. He is identifying differences between depressed and non-depressed PD patients using Positron Emission Tomography (PET), a neuroimaging technology, to visualize dopamine activity in the brain. This research could provide insight into the development of Parkinson’s disease and the neurochemical activity associated with depression. It also may contribute to the development of dopamine-related therapy in the treatment of depression and to screening depressed patients for Parkinsons.