About This Research Project
Gregory Pontone, MD, MHS
Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Attending Psychiatrist in the Geriatric and Neuropsychiatry Division
Director of the Johns Hopkins Parkinson’s Disease Neuropsychiatry Clinic
Dr. Pontone and Arnold Bakker, PhD focus on the non-motor aspects of Parkinson’s disease and related disorders in adults age 65 or older.
The role of memory and hippocampal networks in neuropsychiatric disorders in Parkinson’s disease.
The goal of Dr. Pontone’s research is to gain a better understanding of how Parkinson’s Disease injures a vital part of the brain called the hippocampus. Damage to networks in this area of the brain raises the risk for memory impairment, anxiety, depression, and psychosis.
PD is more than just a disabling movement disorder. It also causes changes in thinking, perception, and mood regulation. As a result, more than half of persons with Parkinson’s disease suffer from dementia, anxiety, depression, and hallucinations at some point during the course of the illness.
Loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra causes the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. However, the cause of non-movement symptoms, such as dementia, anxiety, depression, and psychosis, is not well understood. It likely involves a complex network of structures in the brain.
New treatments for non-movement symptoms require a better understanding of the brain circuits involved in causing dementia, anxiety, depression, and psychosis in PD. Dr. Pontone is studying the brain with advanced techniques in functional magnetic imaging (fMRI).
Pilot data show that hyperactivity in the hippocampus is associated with memory impairment in PD. Dr. Pontone’s research team believes that returning the hippocampus to a normal level of activation will restore memory and may also slow or prevent progression to dementia.
Dr. Pontone and Dr. Bakker are seeking funding to extend the project by:
- Enrolling additional participants to increase statistical power for their preliminary finding that hippocampal hyperactivity is associated with memory impairment in Parkinson’s disease.
- Testing whether anxiety, depression, or psychosis are also associated with hippocampal hyperactivity.
- Performing a pilot trial to determine the safety and tolerability of an experimental treatment. Some participants will be given low-dose Levetiracetam®, an anti-seizure drug. The initial trial—in which both the researchers and participants know who is taking the drug—must be done before applying for a grant for a larger placebo-controlled trial. The goal is to determine the effect of the drug on hippocampal hyperactivity and memory dysfunction in PD.
If successful, this would be the first treatment for mild cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease and could lead to new treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders.
Adult men and women with Parkinson’s disease, English speaking, age 65 or older.
Gregory Pontone, M.D., M.H.S. is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. After completing a medicine internship and residency training in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Pontone completed a two-year fellowship in geriatric psychiatry and movement disorders focusing on Parkinson’s disease through the Clinical Research Program of the Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Center at Johns Hopkins. He also completed a fellowship in Clinical Trial Methods in Neurology sponsored by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and has an added certification in the specialty of geriatric psychiatry. He serves on the Scientific Review Committee and as the co-chair of the Cognitive/Psychiatric Working Group for an international consortium of Parkinson’s disease researchers, the Parkinson Study Group. He is an associate editorial board member for the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
He is an Attending Psychiatrist in the Geriatric and Neuropsychiatry division where he treats patients with neurodegenerative disorders (including Parkinson’s disease and related disorders, Alzheimer’s dementia), and behavioral disturbances resulting from these diseases. Dr. Pontone is the director of the Johns Hopkins Parkinson’s disease Neuropsychiatry Clinic, which focuses on diagnosing and treating the neuropsychiatric aspects of Parkinson’s disease and related disorders. His research focuses on the interaction between neuropsychiatric symptoms such as cognitive impairment, anxiety, and depression and motor impairment in Parkinson’s disease.
Arnold Bakker, Ph.D. graduated from Tilburg University in the Netherlands where he completed a Master’s degree in clinical neuropsychology. After completing an internship in medical psychology, he continued his graduate work in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Bakker completed his doctorate in cognitive psychology and returned to the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, where he was appointed as a faculty member in the Division of Psychiatric Neuroimaging with joint appointments in Psychological and Brain Sciences and the School of Public Health’s Department of Mental Health. Dr. Bakker currently serves as the director of the Neuroimaging Program in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
Dr. Bakker’s research and teaching activities focus on the cognitive neuroscience of human memory. He studies the neural mechanisms underlying both normal memory function and impaired memory function in aging and disease using neuropsychological assessment, experimental behavioral assessment, and particularly advanced neuroimaging methods. Dr. Bakker has extensive experience designing and conducting neuroimaging studies, including the use of neuroimaging as an outcome measure in intervention studies such as clinical trials.
Gregory Michael Pontone, MD, M.H.S.
After completing a medicine internship and residency training in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Pontone completed a two-year fellowship in geriatric...Read More...
"Anxiety disorders are common in Parkinson's disease (PD), but are not well character...