Age-related declines in nigral neuronal function correlate with motor impairments in rhesus monkeys

Marina E. Emborg, Shuang Y. Ma, Elliott J. Mufson, Allan I. Levey, Michael D. Taylor, W. Douglas Brown, James E. Holden, Jeffrey H. Kordower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

265 Scopus citations


Although the role of dopamine dysfunction is well established in Parkinson's disease, the effect of nigrostriatal degeneration on motor performance during normal aging is less well understood. In this study, aged rhesus monkeys (25-27 years old) displayed significant impairments relative to young (3-5 years old) cohorts in motor function as assessed on a fine motor task and home cage activity. Additionally, the clinical motor function of aged monkeys was impaired relative to young monkeys as assessed on a clinical rating scale. Unbiased stereologic measurements of the substantia nigra revealed a significant age-related loss of tyrosine hydroxylase- immunoreactive (TH-ir; 50.3%) and dopamine transporter-immunoreactive (DAT- ir; 33.2%) nigral neurons. The monkeys performance on the fine motor task and on the clinical rating scale was correlated with TH-ir neuronal counts. The number of DAT-ir nigral neurons was correlated with activity and clinical rating scale scores. Our results suggest that age-related motor impairments in nonhuman primates are associated with spontaneous decreases in TH-ir and DAT-ir nigral cells. The correlation of motor deficits with the loss of TH- ir and DAT-ir nigral neurons suggests that aged nonhuman primates may provide a useful model for mimicking changes seen in human aging and early Parkinson's disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-265
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 16 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Dopamine
  • Motor function
  • Primates
  • Stereology
  • Substantia nigra

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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