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Keywords:

  • Parkinson's disease;
  • Huntington's disease;
  • Associative learning;
  • Neostriatal disorders;
  • Basal ganglia

Abstract

The performances of 12 patients with Parkinson's disease (PD), 16 with Huntington's disease (HD), and young and old healthy controls were assessed on a number of tests of verbal and nonverbal declarative memory, on a test of nonmotor conditional associative learning (words and colors), and on a number of reaction time (RT) tasks. The RT tasks consisted of cued simple and choice reactions. The relationship between the precue and the imperative stimulus in the S1–S2 paradigm was nonarbitrary in the first series and arbitrary in the second series. The series with arbitrary S1–S2 associations was repeated across two successive blocks of trials. The rationale of the study was to investigate the function of the basal ganglia “complex loop,” and it was postulated that HD patients would show greater deficits because of greater involvement of the caudate nucleus. The patients with HD had the slowest RTs. Across the two blocks with arbitrary S1–S2 associations, the patients with HD but not PD nevertheless showed evidence of learning in their precued RTs. In contrast, the patients with PD were better able to remember the associations in free recall than were the HD patients. It is concluded that patients with PD have relatively greater deficits in procedural learning, whereas those with HD have relatively more impairments in declarative memory, and the greater level of cognitive impairment in HD overall is interpreted as being due to more serious damage to the caudate loop.