Relationship of striatal dopamine synthesis capacity to age and cognition. Academic Article uri icon


  • Past research has demonstrated that performance on frontal lobe-dependent tasks is associated with dopamine system integrity and that various dopamine system deficits occur with aging. The positron emission tomography (PET) radiotracer 6-[(18)F]fluoro-l-m-tyrosine (FMT) is a substrate of the dopamine-synthesizing enzyme, aromatic amino acid decarboxylase (AADC). Studies using 6-[(18)F]fluorodopa (FDOPA) (another AADC substrate) to measure how striatal PET signal and age relate have had inconsistent outcomes. The varying results occur in part from tracer processing that renders FDOPA signal subject to aspects of postrelease metabolism, which may themselves change with aging. In contrast, FMT remains a purer measure of AADC function. We used partial volume-corrected FMT PET scans to measure age-related striatal dopamine synthesis capacity in 21 older (mean, 66.9) and 16 younger (mean, 22.8) healthy adults. We also investigated how striatal FMT signal related to a cognitive measure of frontal lobe function. Older adults showed significantly greater striatal FMT signal than younger adults. Within the older group, FMT signal in dorsal caudate (DCA) and dorsal putamen was greater with age, suggesting compensation for deficits elsewhere in the dopamine system. In younger adults, FMT signal in DCA was lower with age, likely related to ongoing developmental processes. Younger adults who performed worse on tests of frontal lobe function showed greater FMT signal in right DCA, independent of age effects. Our data suggest that higher striatal FMT signal represents nonoptimal dopamine processing. They further support a relationship between striatal dopamine processing and frontal lobe cognitive function.

publication date

  • December 2008