Graph theory analysis of the dopamine D2 receptor network in Parkinson’s disease patients with cognitive decline

Alexander S. Mihaescu, Jinhee Kim, Mario Masellis, Ariel Graff-Guerrero, Sang Soo Cho, Leigh Christopher, Mikaeel Valli, María Díez-Cirarda, Yuko Koshimori, Antonio P. Strafella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cognitive decline in Parkinson's disease (PD) is a common sequela of the disorder that has a large impact on patient well-being. Its physiological etiology, however, remains elusive. Our study used graph theory analysis to investigate the large-scale topological patterns of the extrastriatal dopamine D2 receptor network. We used positron emission tomography with [11C]FLB-457 to measure the binding potential of cortical dopamine D2 receptors in two networks: the meso-cortical dopamine network and the meso-limbic dopamine network. We also investigated the application of partial volume effect correction (PVEC) in conjunction with graph theory analysis. Three groups were investigated in this study divided according to their cognitive status as measured by the Montreal Cognitive Assessment score, with a score ≤25 considered cognitively impaired: (a) healthy controls (n = 13, 11 female), (b) cognitively unimpaired PD patients (PD-CU, n = 13, 5 female), and (c) PD patients with mild cognitive impairment (PD-MCI, n = 17, 4 female). In the meso-cortical network, we observed increased small-worldness, normalized clustering, and local efficiency in the PD-CU group compared to the PD-MCI group, as well as a hub shift in the PD-MCI group. Compensatory reorganization of the meso-cortical dopamine D2 receptor network may be responsible for some of the cognitive preservation observed in PD-CU. These results were found without PVEC applied and PVEC proved detrimental to the graph theory analysis. Overall, our findings demonstrate how graph theory analysis can be used to detect subtle changes in the brain that would otherwise be missed by regional comparisons of receptor density.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)947-965
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of neuroscience research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Parkinson's disease
  • [C]FLB-457
  • cognitive decline
  • dopamine D2 receptors
  • graph theory
  • partial volume effect correction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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