Background:Successful object manipulation relies on the ability to form and retrieve sensorimotor memories of digit forces and positions used in previous object lifts. Past studies of patients affected by Parkinson's disease (PD) have revealed that the basal ganglia play a crucial role in the acquisition and/or retrieval of sensorimotor memories for grasp control. Whereas it is known that PD impairs anticipatory control of digit forces during grasp, learning deficits associated with the planning of digit placement have yet to be explored. This question is motivated by recent work in healthy subjects revealing that anticipatory control of digit placement plays a crucial role for successful manipulation. Methodology/Principal Findings:We asked ten PD patients off medication and ten age-matched controls to reach, grasp and lift an object whose center of mass (CM) was on the left, right or center. The only task requirement was to minimize object roll during lift. The CM remained the same across consecutive trials (blocked condition) or was altered from trial to trial (random condition). We hypothesized that impairment of the basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical circuits in PD patients would reduce their ability to anticipate digit placement appropriate to the CM location. Consequently, we predicted that PD patients would exhibit similar digit placement in the blocked vs. random conditions and produce larger peak object rolls than that of control subjects. In the blocked condition, PD patients exhibited significantly weaker modulation of fingertip contact points to CM location and larger object roll than controls (p<0.05 and p<0.01, respectively). Nevertheless, both controls and PD patients minimized object roll more in the blocked than in the random condition (p<0.01). Conclusions/Significance:Our findings indicate that, even though PD patients may have a residual ability of anticipatory control of digit contact points and forces, they fail to implement a motor plan with the same degree of effectiveness as controls. We conclude that intact basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical circuits are necessary for successful sensorimotor learning of both grasp kinematics and kinetics required for dexterous hand-object interactions.
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