The FDA approves F-Dopa PET imaging to aid in early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease
The FDA recently approved Flourodopa F18 (F-Dopa), a radioactive tracer for positron emission tomography (PET) that can help visualize the nerve endings of dopaminergic neurons. It can be used to help in the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and other parkinsonian syndromes. In these patients, uptake of the tracer in the brain is reduced. F-Dopa has been available for many years on a research basis, and is now approved for clinical use. Medical insurance coverage of the procedure was not available when the tracer was only used for research activities. The approval of F-Dopa by the FDA opens up the likelihood that F-Dopa PET imaging will, with time, be covered by insurance companies.
F-Dopa imaging will be used in much the same way as DaTscan imaging. DaTscan is a radioactive tracer for single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) that can help visualize the dopamine transporter, marking the same neurons that F-Dopa does. Both tracers are reduced in all parkinsonian conditions including atypical parkinsonisms such as Progressive supranuclear palsy and Multiple system atrophy. These imaging techniques can therefore be used to distinguish the parkinsonian condition, characterized by degeneration of dopaminergic neurons, from other conditions which are not characterized by degeneration of dopaminergic neurons, such as essential tremor. Both DaTscan and F-Dopa imaging can be helpful when clinical examination is not sufficient to differentiate between the clinical possibilities.
Approval of F-Dopa is exciting news for the PD community as it introduces a second diagnostic test of PD to be used in appropriate clinical settings.
If you have any questions about whether there is a role for F-Dopa imaging in your own care, please consult your neurologist.