, Volume 205, Issue 3, pp 375-385

Movement chunking during sequence learning is a dopamine-dependant process: a study conducted in Parkinson’s disease

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Abstract

Chunking of single movements into integrated sequences has been described during motor learning, and we have recently demonstrated that this process involves a dopamine-dependant mechanism in animal (Levesque et al. in Exp Brain Res 182:499–508, 2007; Tremblay et al. in Behav Brain Res 198:231–239, 2009). However, there is no such evidence in human. The aim of the present study was to assess this question in Parkinson’s disease (PD), a neurological condition known for its dopamine depletion in the striatum. Eleven PD patients were tested under their usual levodopa medication (ON state), and following a 12-h levodopa withdrawal (OFF state). Patients were compared with 12 healthy participants on a motor learning sequencing task, requiring pressing fourteen buttons in the correct order, which was determined by visual stimuli presented on a computer screen. Learning was assessed from three blocks of 20 trials administered successively. Chunks of movements were intrinsically created by each participant during this learning period. Then, the sequence was shuffled according to the participant’s own chunks, generating two new sequences, with either preserved or broken chunks. Those new motor sequences had to be performed separately in a fourth and fifth blocks of 20 trials. Results showed that execution time improved in every group during the learning period (from blocks 1 to 3). However, while motor chunking occurred in healthy controls and ON-PD patients, it did not in OFF-PD patients. In the shuffling conditions, a significant difference was seen between the preserved and the broken chunks conditions for both healthy participants and ON-PD patients, but not for OFF-PD patients. These results suggest that movement chunking during motor sequence learning is a dopamine-dependent process in human.