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Keywords:

  • disease severity;
  • Parkinson's disease;
  • pointing movements;
  • sensorimotor processing;
  • visual feedback

Abstract

Indirect evidence suggests that patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) have deficits not only in motor performance, but also in the processing of sensory information. We investigated the role of sensory information processing in PD patients with a broad range of disease severities and in a group of age-matched controls. Subjects were tested in two conditions: pointing to a remembered visual target in complete darkness (DARK) and in the presence of an illuminated frame with a light attached to the index finger (FRAME). Differences in pointing errors in these two conditions reflect the effect of visual feedback on pointing. PD patients showed significantly larger constant and variable errors than controls in the DARK and FRAME condition. The difference of the variable error in the FRAME and DARK condition decreased as a function of the severity of PD. This indicates that any deficits in the processing of proprioceptive information occur already at very mild symptoms of PD, and that deficits in the use of visual feedback develop progressively in later stages of the disease. These results provide a tool for early diagnosis of PD and shed new light on the functional role of the brain structures that are affected in PD.