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Precision grip and Parkinson's disease.

S J Fellows, J Noth, M Schwarz
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/121.9.1771 1771-1784 First published online: 1 September 1998


In order to investigate sensorimotor processing and force development in Parkinson's disease, 16 patients, four patients with hemiparkinsonism and 12 age-matched normal subjects were assessed during lifting and holding of an object in a precision grip between thumb and forefinger, or holding the object in this grip at a fixed height above a table. In the former case, object loading could be changed between lifts without warning. In the latter case, unexpected step load changes to the object were applied to the object with a torque motor. All procedures could be applied with or without visual control of the hand and the object. Normal subjects lifted an unpredictable load employing the grip force parameters used in the preceding lift. If a load change was encountered, the parameters became adapted to the new conditions during the lift, modulating grip forces to match the loading. Parkinsonian patients retained this strategy and the ability to regulate grip forces according to load. Under all conditions, however, parkinsonian subjects developed abnormally high grip forces in both the lift and the hold phase, although the ratio of these forces remained normal. Lifting height was normal in parkinsonian subjects, but the duration of the lifting task was significantly prolonged, due to a marked slowing in the rate of grip force development in the lead-up to object lift-off and to prolongation of the movement phase. Forewarning of object loading, with or without visual control, did not reduce timing deficits or improve the rate of grip force development. However, it did allow parkinsonian subjects to reduce the safety margin significantly. Responses to step load changes imposed during holding without visual control showed minor abnormalities in the parkinsonian patients: onset latencies and EMG activity in the first dorsal interosseus and thenar muscles were normal up to 140 ms after displacement. Subsequent EMG activity in the first dorsal interosseus remained largely normal, but activity later in the slip response (140-210 ms), subject to voluntary influence, was reduced in the thenar muscle. Differences were less marked under visual conditions, but remained significant. We concluded that the internal parameter set for lifting an object in a precision grip and the automatic processes adapting precision grip to actual conditions are intact in Parkinson's disease. However, parkinsonian subjects generate abnormally high grip forces and require longer than normal subjects to complete a lift, particularly with lighter loads. This deterioration in performance reflects both reduced effectiveness of sensorimotor processing and impairment in the rate of force development in Parkinson's disease.