Interlimb coordination in patients with Parkinson’s disease: motor learning deficits and the importance of augmented information feedback
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The basal ganglia have traditionally been associated with motor control functions and this view has prevailed since the late nineteenth century. Recent experimental studies suggest that this neuroanatomical system is also critically involved in motor learning. In the present study, motor learning/transfer capabilities were compared between patients with Parkinson’s disease and a group of normal elderly people. Subjects practiced a bimanual coordination task that required continuous flexion-extension movements in the transverse plane with a 90° phase offset between the forearms. During acquisition, augmented visual feedback of the relative motions was provided in real time. The findings revealed improvements in the bimanual coordination pattern across practice in both groups when the augmented concurrent feedback was present. However, when transferred to performance conditions in which the augmented information was withheld, performance deteriorated (relative to the augmented condition) and this effect was more prevalent in the Parkinson patients. More specifically, no improvement in interlimb coordination was observed under nonaugmented feedback conditions across practice. Instead, a drift toward the preferred in-phase and anti-phase coordination patterns was evident. The present findings suggest that Parkinson patients can improve their performance on a new motor task, but they remain strongly dependent on augmented visual information to guide these newly acquired movements. The apparent adoption of a closed-loop control mode is accompanied with decreases in movement speed in order to use the feedback to ensure accuracy. When the augmented feedback is withheld and the movement pattern is to be controlled by means of intrinsic information feedback sources, performance is severely hampered. The findings are hypothesized to indicate that learning/transfer is affected in Parkinson patients who apparently prefer some constancy in the environmental contingencies under which practice takes place. The present findings are consistent with the notion that the basal ganglia form a critical neuroanatomical substrate for motor learning.
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