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Idiopathic rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (iRBD) has now been established as an important marker of the prodromal stage of Parkinson's disease and related synucleinopathies. However, although dopamine transporter single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) has been used to demonstrate the presence of nigro-striatal deficit in iRBD, quantifiable correlates of this are currently lacking. Sensitivity to rewarding stimuli is reduced in some people with Parkinson's disease, potentially contributing to aspects of the neuropsychiatric phenotype in these individuals. Furthermore, a role for dopaminergic degeneration is suggested by the fact that reward insensitivity can be improved by dopaminergic medications. Patients with iRBD present a unique opportunity to study the relationship between reward sensitivity and early dopaminergic deficit in the unmedicated state. Here, we investigate whether a non-invasive, objective measure of reward sensitivity might be a marker of dopaminergic status in prodromal Parkinson's disease by comparing with SPECT/CT measurement of dopaminergic loss in the basal ganglia. Striatal dopaminergic deficits in iRBD are associated with progression to Parkinsonian disorders. Therefore, identification of a clinically measurable correlate of this degenerative process might provide a basis for the development of novel risk stratification tools. Using a recently developed incentivized eye-tracking task, we quantified reward sensitivity in a cohort of 41 patients with iRBD and compared this with data from 40 patients with Parkinson's disease and 41 healthy controls. Patients with iRBD also underwent neuroimaging with dopamine transporter SPECT/CT. Overall, reward sensitivity, indexed by pupillary response to monetary incentives, was reduced in iRBD cases compared with controls and was not significantly different to that in patients with Parkinson's disease. However, in iRBD patients with normal dopamine transporter SPECT/CT imaging, reward sensitivity was not significantly different from healthy controls. Across all iRBD cases, a positive association was observed between reward sensitivity and dopaminergic SPECT/CT signal in the putamen. These findings demonstrate a direct relationship between dopaminergic deficit and reward sensitivity in patients with iRBD and suggest that measurement of pupillary responses could be of value in models of risk stratification and disease progression in these individuals.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





2502 - 2511


Parkinson’s disease, REM sleep behaviour disorder, dopamine, reward, Humans, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, Parkinson Disease, Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins, Dopamine, Reward