Practice effects in three-dimensional sequential rapid aiming in Parkinson's disease



One hypothesized role of the basal ganglia, based largely on findings in Parkinson's disease (PD) patients, is the control of movement sequences. We examined changes in performance with practice of a movement sequence in PD patients and age-matched controls (n = 8 per group). Subjects practiced a complex three-dimensional sequential aiming task over 2 days, completing 180 trials, with the goal to minimize response time within specified accuracy limits. The results indicated that both groups became faster in planning the movement, and both groups moved more quickly through the sequence with practice. The PD group's decrease in movement time occurred primarily within the first 45 trials, whereas the control group continued to improve through the first 150 trials. Flight time (time between targets) to a small target decreased with practice in both groups, but flight time to a large target decreased only in the control group. This finding indicates that error corrective processes are more amenable to practice than ballistic processes in people with PD. There was little evidence that either group improved their performance by planning shorter (lower) trajectories, but rather increased mean velocity. Contact time (time on target) decreased with practice in both groups, and there were no group differences. These data indicate that practice can improve performance, both in planning and in specific execution processes. © 2002 Movement Disorder Society