A three-dimensional tracking system was used to examine whether subjects with Parkinson's disease (PD) would show characteristic performance deficits in an unconstrained pointing task. Five targets were presented in a pyramidal array in space to 11 individuals with mild to moderate PD and 8 age-matched controls. After the target was indicated, subjects closed their eyes and pointed to the remembered target locations without vision. Despite the absence of visual feedback during movement, PD subjects were as accurate overall as controls. However, PD subjects showed greater variable errors, more irregular trajectories, and a vertical endpoint bias in which their endpoints were significantly lower than controls. They also showed deficiencies in the compensatory organization of joint rotations to ensure consistency in azimuthal (horizontal) positioning of the arm endpoint. We concluded that, under appropriate task conditions, PD subjects may not show overall deficits in accuracy even when making targeted movements at normal speed without visual feedback. Nevertheless, our findings indicate that there are certain dimensions of performance which are selectively altered in Parkinson's disease even when overall performance is normal.
The authors are with the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, 197 University Ave., Newark, NJ 07102. Michail B. Berkinblit and Sergei Adamovich are also with the Institute for Problems in Information Transmission, Russian Academy of Science, Moscow, Russia. Wayne Hening is also with the Department of Neurology, UMDNJ-R.W. Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, NJ.