Effect of levodopa on handwriting tasks of different complexity in Parkinson’s disease: a kinematic study


Levodopa treatment does improve Parkinson’s disease (PD) dysgraphia, but previous research is not in agreement about which aspects are most responsive. This study investigated the effect of levodopa on the kinematics of writing. Twenty-four patients with PD of less than 10 years duration and 25 age-matched controls were recruited. A practically defined off state method was used to assess the levodopa motor response, measured on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale Part III. The kinematic features for six handwriting tasks involving different levels of complexity were recorded from PD patients in off and on states and from the control group. Levodopa is effective for simple writing activities involving repetition of letters, denoting improved fine motor control. But the same benefit was not seen for copying a sentence and a written category fluency test, tasks that carry memory and cognitive loads. We also found significant differences in kinematic features between control participants and PD patients, for all tasks and in both on and off states. Serial testing of handwriting in patients known to be at risk for developing PD might prove to be an effective biomarker for cell loss in the substantia nigra and the associated dopamine deficiency. We recommend using a panel of writing tasks including sentence copying and memory dependence. Dual-task effects may make these activities more sensitive to early motor deficits, while their weaker levodopa responsiveness would cause them to be more stable indicators of motor progression once symptomatic treatment has been commenced.

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We acknowledge the funding supported by RMIT University scholarship and clinical support from Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne, Australia.

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Correspondence to Dinesh Kumar.

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Zham, P., Kumar, D., Viswanthan, R. et al. Effect of levodopa on handwriting tasks of different complexity in Parkinson’s disease: a kinematic study. J Neurol 266, 1376–1382 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00415-019-09268-2

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  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Levodopa
  • Kinematic
  • Dysgraphia