Focal dystonias are the most common type of isolated dystonia. Although their causative pathophysiology remains unclear, it is thought to involve abnormal functioning of the basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical circuitry. We used high-resolution research tomography with the radioligand 11C-NNC-112 to examine striatal dopamine D1 receptor function in two independent groups of patients, writer's cramp and laryngeal dystonia, compared to healthy controls. We found that availability of dopamine D1 receptors was significantly increased in bilateral putamen by 19.6-22.5% in writer's cramp and in right putamen and caudate nucleus by 24.6-26.8% in laryngeal dystonia (all P40.009). This suggests hyperactivity of the direct basal ganglia pathway in focal dystonia. Our findings paralleled abnormally decreased dopaminergic function via the indirect basal ganglia pathway and decreased symptom-induced phasic striatal dopamine release in writer's cramp and laryngeal dystonia. When examining topological distribution of dopamine D1 and D2 receptor abnormalities in these forms of dystonia, we found abnormal separation of direct and indirect pathways within the striatum, with negligible, if any, overlap between the two pathways and with the regions of phasic dopamine release. However, despite topological disorganization of dopaminergic function, alterations of dopamine D1 and D2 receptors were somatotopically localized within the striatal hand and larynx representations in writer's cramp and laryngeal dystonia, respectively. This finding points to their direct relevance to disorder-characteristic clinical features. Increased D1 receptor availability showed significant negative correlations with dystonia duration but not its severity, likely representing a developmental endophenotype of this disorder. In conclusion, a comprehensive pathophysiological mechanism of abnormal basal ganglia function in focal dystonia is built upon upregulated dopamine D1 receptors that abnormally increase excitation of the direct pathway, downregulated dopamine D2 receptors that abnormally decrease inhibition within the indirect pathway, and weakened nigrostriatal phasic dopamine release during symptomatic task performance. Collectively, these aberrations of striatal dopaminergic function underlie imbalance between direct and indirect basal ganglia pathways and lead to abnormal thalamo-motor-cortical hyperexcitability in dystonia.
- laryngeal dystonia
- writer's cramp