BACKGROUND: Often in Parkinson's disease (PD) motor-related problems overshadow latent non-motor deficits as it is difficult to dissociate one from the other with commonly used observational inventories. Here we ask if the variability patterns of hand speed and acceleration would be revealing of deficits in spatial-orientation related decisions as patients performed a familiar reach-to-grasp task. To this end we use spatial-orientation priming which normally facilitates motor-program selection and asked whether in PD spatial-orientation priming helps or hinders performance.<br /><br />METHODS: To dissociate spatial-orientation- and motor-related deficits participants performed two versions of the task. The biomechanical version (DEFAULT) required the same postural- and hand-paths as the orientation-priming version (primed-UP). Any differences in the patients here could not be due to motor issues as the tasks were biomechanically identical. The other priming version (primed-DOWN) however required additional spatial and postural processing. We assessed in all three cases both the forward segment deliberately aimed towards the spatial-target and the retracting segment, spontaneously bringing the hand to rest without an instructed goal.<br /><br />RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: We found that forward and retracting segments belonged in two different statistical classes according to the fluctuations of speed and acceleration maxima. Further inspection revealed conservation of the forward (voluntary) control of speed but in PD a discontinuity of this control emerged during the uninstructed retractions which was absent in NC. Two PD groups self-emerged: one group in which priming always affected the retractions and the other in which only the more challenging primed-DOWN condition was affected. These PD-groups self-formed according to the speed variability patterns, which systematically changed along a gradient that depended on the priming, thus dissociating motor from spatial-orientation issues. Priming did not facilitate the motor task in PD but it did reveal a breakdown in the spatial-orientation decision that was independent of the motor-postural path.
Yanovich, P., Isenhower, R. W., Sage, J., & Torres, E. B. (2013). Spatial-Orientation Priming Impedes Rather than Facilitates the Spontaneous Control of Hand-Retraction Speeds in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease. PLoS ONE, 8(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0066757