Noradrenergic deficits contribute to apathy in Parkinson’s disease through the precision of expected outcomes


A bstract Apathy is a debilitating feature of many diseases, including Parkinson’s disease. We tested the hypothesis that degeneration of the locus coeruleus-noradrenaline system contributes to apathy by modulating the relative weighting of prior beliefs about action outcomes. Participants with mild-to-moderate idiopathic Parkinson’s disease ( N =17) completed a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study with 40 mg of the noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor atomoxetine. Prior weighting was inferred from psychophysical analysis of performance in an effort-based visuomotor task, and was confirmed as negatively correlated with apathy. Locus coeruleus integrity was assessed in vivo using magnetisation transfer imaging at 7T. The effect of atomoxetine depended on locus coeruleus integrity: participants with a more degenerate locus coeruleus showed a greater increase in prior weighting on atomoxetine versus placebo. The results indicate a contribution of the noradrenergic system to apathy and potential benefit from noradrenergic treatment of people with Parkinson’s disease, subject to stratification according to locus coeruleus integrity.