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Targeting impulsivity in Parkinson’s disease using atomoxetine

Angie A. Kehagia, Charlotte R. Housden, Ralf Regenthal, Roger A. Barker, Ulrich Müller, James Rowe, Barbara J. Sahakian, Trevor W. Robbins
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awu117 1986-1997 First published online: 3 June 2014


Noradrenergic dysfunction may play a significant role in cognition in Parkinson’s disease due to the early degeneration of the locus coeruleus. Converging evidence from patient and animal studies points to the role of noradrenaline in dopaminergically insensitive aspects of the parkinsonian dysexecutive syndrome, yet the direct effects of noradrenergic enhancement have not to date been addressed. Our aim was to directly investigate these, focusing on impulsivity during response inhibition and decision making. To this end, we administered 40 mg atomoxetine, a selective noradrenaline re-uptake inhibitor to 25 patients with Parkinson’s disease (12 female /13 male; 64.4 ± 6.9 years old) in a double blind, randomized, placebo controlled design. Patients completed an extensive battery of neuropsychological tests addressing response inhibition, decision-making, attention, planning and verbal short term memory. Atomoxetine improved stopping accuracy on the Stop Signal Task [F(1,19) = 4.51, P = 0.047] and reduced reflection impulsivity [F(1,9) = 7.86, P = 0.02] and risk taking [F(1,9) = 9.2, P = 0.01] in the context of gambling. The drug also conferred effects on performance as a function of its measured blood plasma concentration: it reduced reflection impulsivity during information sampling [adjusted R2 = 0.23, F(1,16) = 5.83, P = 0.03] and improved problem solving on the One Touch Stockings of Cambridge [adjusted R2 = 0.29, F(1,17) = 8.34, P = 0.01]. It also enhanced target sensitivity during sustained attention [F(1,9) = 5.33, P = 0.046]. The results of this exploratory study represent the basis of specific predictions in future investigations on the effects of atomoxetine in Parkinson’s disease and support the hypothesis that targeting noradrenergic dysfunction may represent a new parallel avenue of therapy in some of the cognitive and behavioural deficits seen in the disorder.

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