Establishing the neurological basis of behavioural dysfunction is key to provide a better understanding of Parkinson's disease (PD) and facilitate development of effective novel therapies. For this, the relationships between longitudinal structural brain changes associated with motor behaviour were determined in a rat model of PD and validated by post-mortem immunohistochemistry. Rats bearing a nigrostriatal lesion induced by infusion of the proteasome inhibitor lactacystin into the left-medial forebrain bundle and saline-injected controls underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at baseline (prior to surgery) and 1, 3 and 5 weeks post-surgery with concomitant motor assessments consisting of forelimb grip strength, accelerating rotarod, and apormorphine-induced rotation. Lactacystin-injected rats developed early motor deficits alongside decreased ipsilateral cortical volumes, specifically thinning of the primary motor (M1) and somatosensory cortices and lateral ventricle hypertrophy (as determined by manual segmentation and deformation-based morphometry). Although sustained, motor dysfunction and nigrostriatal damage were maximal by 1 week post-surgery. Additional volume decreases in the ipsilateral ventral midbrain; corpus striatum and thalamus were only evident by week 3 and 5. Whilst cortical MRI volume changes best predicted the degree of motor impairment, post-mortem tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactivity in the striatum was a better predictor of motor behaviour overall, with the notable exception of performance in the accelerating rotarod, in which, M1 cortical thickness remained the best predictor. These results highlight the importance of identifying extra-nigral regions of damage that impact on behavioural dysfunction from damage to the nigrostriatal system
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