Effect of Age on Substantia Nigra Hyper-echogenicity in Parkinson's Disease Patients and Healthy Controls

Toomas Toomsoo, Inga Liepelt-Scarfone, Daniela Berg, Riina Kerner, Allan Hermann Pool, Liis Kadastik-Eerme, Inna Rubanovits, Toomas Asser, Pille Taba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Substantia nigra (SN) hyper-echogenicity (SN+) describes an enlargement (>90th percentile) of the area of echogenicity at the anatomic site of the SN in the midbrain detected by transcranial sonography. This ultrasound sign has proven to be a valuable marker supporting the clinical diagnosis of Parkinson's disease (PD). Although there is considerable variation in the extent of echogenic signals at the anatomic site of the SN among PD patients, previous work suggests that SN+ is a stable marker throughout the course of the disease. The present study focused on two aspects: (i) determining whether SN+ values differ between the sides, mirroring the asymmetric character of the disease; and (ii) determining whether age has an influence on SN echogenicity. This cross-sectional study included 300 PD patients and 200 healthy controls. SN+ was measured planimetrically by transcranial sonography. Echogenicity was analyzed separately for onset and non-onset sides, with onset side defined as the SN contralateral to the side of the body that first manifested PD-related motor impairment. Age of the patients and healthy controls at study time was used for correlation. We found that the onset SN+ contralateral to the side of initial motor symptoms was on average 17.6% larger than its counterpart. However, we also found that contrary to the control group, where an increase in age was associated with an increase in size of SN+, age of PD patients was associated with a decline in size of the onset SN+. Furthermore, SN measured at the onset side of PD patients correlated significantly with patient age and Hoehn and Yahr stage, a scale that grades PD severity, although this was not the case for the non-onset side. The present study indicates that changes in SN echogenicity have a different dynamic depending on the onset side of the disease. The age at study time had a significantly negative effect on the size of onset SN+, the effect on the non-onset side was non-significant. We conclude that for appropriate PD analysis, onset SN+ is a more important marker than the average of both sides of SN. Furthermore, we found that among healthy controls, the size of SN+ increases with age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-128
Number of pages7
JournalUltrasound in Medicine and Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomarker
  • Hyper-echogenicity
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Substantia nigra
  • Transcranial sonography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Biophysics
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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