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University Hospitals Case Medical Center Researchers Search for Mysteries of Dystonia With Advanced Brain Imaging
Date:11/14/2011

CLEVELAND, Nov. 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- An estimated 300,000 people in North America are afflicted with dystonia, a disorder characterized by a progressive loss of motor control. Patients with generalized dystonia grapple with involuntary muscle spasms that lead to uncontrolled twisting and turning in awkward, sometimes painful postures. Although cognition, intelligence and life span are often normal, the disorder can have a devastating impact on quality of life, as its victims frequently struggle to perform simple activities of daily living.

At University Hospitals (UH) Case Medical Center's Neurological Institute, a research team is using advanced imaging technology to explore the complex network of brain activity relating to movement in healthy subjects and in patients with dystonia. "Normally, MRI is used to provide an image of the structure of the brain," says Benjamin L. Walter, MD, Medical Director, Deep Brain Stimulation Program, UH Case Medical Center, and Assistant Professor of Neurology, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. "Functional MRI [fMRI] takes advantage of the artifact that's created by blood flow and the oxygenation of blood. The level of oxygenation is highly correlated with neural activity in the same regions, so we can see which parts of the brain are being used."

Dr. Walter's current research explores two key areas: the nature of brain activity in patients with dystonia, and how that differs from activity in normal subjects; and understanding how deep brain stimulation (DBS), a leading-edge treatment for selected dystonia patients, works to quiet the involuntary spasms. Treating dystonia with DBS involves the placement of electrodes in the internal segment of the globus pallidus, a subcortical structure also targeted in the DBS treatment of Parkinson's disease, essential tremor and obsessive compulsive disorder. "In disorders such as Parkinson's and essential tremor, when you turn the stimulator on there's a
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