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Impairment of gradual muscle adjustment during wrist circumduction in Parkinson's disease

Toxopeus, Carolien M. and de Jong, Bauke M. and Valsan, Gopal and Conway, Bernard A. and van der Hoeven, Johannes H. and Leenders, Klaus L. and Maurits, Natasha M. (2011) Impairment of gradual muscle adjustment during wrist circumduction in Parkinson's disease. PLoS One, 6 (9). -. ISSN 1932-6203

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Purposeful movements are attained by gradually adjusted activity of opposite muscles, or synergists. This requires a motor system that adequately modulates initiation and inhibition of movement and selectively activates the appropriate muscles. In patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) initiation and inhibition of movements are impaired which may manifest itself in e.g. difficulty to start and stop walking. At single-joint level, impaired movement initiation is further accompanied by insufficient inhibition of antagonist muscle activity. As the motor symptoms in PD primarily result from cerebral dysfunction, quantitative investigation of gradually adjusted muscle activity during execution of purposeful movement is a first step to gain more insight in the link between impaired modulation of initiation and inhibition at the levels of (i) cerebrally coded task performance and (ii) final execution by the musculoskeletal system. To that end, the present study investigated changes in gradual adjustment of muscle synergists using a manipulandum that enabled standardized smooth movement by continuous wrist circumduction. Differences between PD patients (N = 15, off-medication) and healthy subjects (N = 16) concerning the relation between muscle activity and movement performance in these groups were assessed using kinematic and electromyographic (EMG) recordings. The variability in the extent to which a particular muscle was active during wrist circumduction - defined as muscle activity differentiation - was quantified by EMG. We demonstrated that more differentiated muscle activity indeed correlated positively with improved movement performance, i.e. higher movement speed and increased smoothness of movement. Additionally, patients employed a less differentiated muscle activity pattern than healthy subjects. These specific changes during wrist circumduction imply that patients have a decreased ability to gradually adjust muscles causing a decline in movement performance. We propose that less differentiated muscle use in PD patients reflects impaired control of modulated initiation and inhibition due to decreased ability to selectively and jointly activate muscles.