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Scaling and coordination deficits during dynamic object manipulation in Parkinson's disease


The ability to reach for and dynamically manipulate objects in a dexterous fashion requires scaling and coordination of arm, hand, and fingertip forces during reach and grasp components of this behavior. The neural substrates underlying dynamic object manipulation are not well understood. Insight into the role of basal ganglia-thalamocortical circuits in object manipulation can come from the study of patients with Parkinson's disease (PD). We hypothesized that scaling and coordination aspects of motor control are differentially affected by this disorder. We asked 20 PD patients and 23 age-matched control subjects to reach for, grasp, and lift virtual objects along prescribed paths. The movements were subdivided into two types, intensive (scaling) and coordinative, by detecting their underlying self-similarity. PD patients off medication were significantly impaired relative to control subjects for both aspects of movement. Intensive deficits, reduced peak speed and aperture, were seen during the reach. Coordinative deficits were observed during the reach, namely, the relative position along the trajectory at which peak speed and aperture were achieved, and during the lift, when objects tilted with respect to the gravitational axis. These results suggest that basal ganglia-thalamocortical circuits may play an important role in fine motor coordination. Dopaminergic therapy significantly improved intensive but not coordinative aspects of movements. These findings are consistent with a framework in which tonic levels of dopamine in the dorsal striatum encode the energetic cost of a movement, thereby improving intensive or scaling aspects of movement. However, repletion of brain dopamine levels does not restore finely coordinated movement.

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