Impaired olfaction and reduced cholinergic nucleus 4 (Ch4) volume both predict greater cognitive decline in Parkinson’s disease (PD). We examined the relationship between olfaction, longitudinal change in cholinergic basal forebrain nuclei and their target regions, and cognition in early PD.
We analyzed a cohort of 97 PD participants from the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative with brain MRIs at baseline, 1 year, 2 years, and 4 years. Using probabilistic maps, regional grey matter density (GMD) was calculated for Ch4, cholinergic nuclei 1, 2, and 3 (Ch123), and their target regions.
Baseline University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test score correlated with change in GMD of all regions of interest (all p < 0.05). Rate of change of Ch4 GMD was correlated with rate of change of Ch123 (p = 0.034), cortex (p = 0.001), and amygdala GMD (p < 0.001), but not hippocampus GMD (p = 0.38). Rate of change of Ch123 GMD was correlated with rate of change of cortex (p = 0.001) and hippocampus (p < 0.001), but not amygdala GMD (p = 0.133). In a linear regression model including change in GMD of all regions of interest and age as predictors, change in cortex GMD (βˆ= 38.2; 95 % CI: [0.47, 75.9]) and change in hippocampus GMD (βˆ= 24.8; 95 % CI: [0.80, 48.8]) were significant predictors of Montreal Cognitive Assessment score change over time.
Impaired olfaction is associated with degeneration of the cholinergic basal forebrain and bilateral cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus in PD. The relationship between impaired olfaction and cognitive decline may be mediated by greater atrophy of the cortex and hippocampus.

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