Chou KL, Lenhart A, Koeppe RA, Bohnen NI
Background The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) is increasingly being used as a cognitive screening test in Parkinson disease (PD). The MoCA’s popularity likely reflects its ability to detect executive dysfunction, a relative deficiency of the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE).
Objective To compare neurochemical and neuropsychological functions in non-demented PD patients with mild cognitive impairment (PD-MCI) and without, as defined by MoCA (PD-MCI=MoCA<26).
Methods Non-demented PD subjects underwent combined MoCA and MMSE, detailed cognitive testing and [11C]methyl-4-piperidinyl propionate acetylcholinesterase and [11C]dihydrotetrabenazine monoaminergic PET imaging.
Results Eighteen subjects met MoCA PD-MCI criteria but had MMSE scores in the normal range, compared to 29 subjects with normal MoCA and MMSE scores. The MoCA-defined PD-MCI group had reduced performance in global cognition (t=2.91, P=0.0056), most significantly in executive function (t=3.18, P=0.002), as well as significant reduction in dorsal caudate nucleus dopaminergic innervation (t=2.72, P=0.009) compared to the PD without MCI group. Both MoCA and MMSE had poor diagnostic accuracy for PD-MCI (65.3%) when using the Level 2 Movement Disorder Society Task Force definition.
Conclusion PD subjects with normal range MMSE but abnormal MoCA scores had evidence of caudate nucleus dopaminergic denervation and mild cognitive changes, predominantly in executive function. The MoCA may be able to preferentially detect executive dysfunction compared to the MMSE, but the MoCA has limited diagnostic accuracy for PD-MCI, and should not be used alone to make this diagnosis.