Patients suffering from Parkinson's disease display severe and progressive deficits in motor behavior, predominantly as a consequence of the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons, located in the mesencephalon and projecting to striatal regions. The cause of Parkinson's disease is still an enigma. Consequently, the pharmacotherapy of Parkinson's disease consists of symptomatic treatment, with in particular L-dihydroxyphenylalanine (L-DOPA) and/or dopamine receptor agonists. These induce a dramatic initial improvement. However, serious problems gradually develop during long-term treatment. Therefore, a more rational, c.q. causal treatment is needed which requires the introduction of compounds ameliorating the disease process itself. The development of such compounds necessitates (1) more information on the etiopathogenesis, i.e., the cascade of events that ultimately leads to degeneration of the dopaminergic neurons, and (2) brain imaging methods, to estimate the extent of the degeneration of the dopaminergic neurons in the living patient. This is not only important for the early diagnosis, but will also allow to monitor the effectiveness of alleged neuroprotective compounds on a longitudinal base. In this paper, etiopathogenic mechanisms are highlighted along the line of the oxidative stress hypothesis and within this framework, attention is mainly focused on the putative role of glutathione, dopamine auto-oxidation and phase II biotransformation enzymes. Especially, drugs able to increase the activity of phase II biotransformation enzymes seem to elicit a broad-spectrum (neuro)protective response and look very promising leads for the development of neuroprotective treatment strategies in Parkinson's disease. New developments in brain imaging methods (single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET)) to visualize the integrity of the striatal dopaminergic neurons in humans are highlighted as well. Especially, the introduction of radioligands that bind selectively to the dopamine transporter seems to be a significant step forward for the early diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. Performing these brain imaging studies with fixed time intervals does not only create the possibility to follow the degeneration rate of the dopaminergic neurons in Parkinson's disease but also provides the opportunity to estimate therapeutic effects of putative neuroprotective agents in the individual patient.
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