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Neuropsychologia. 2001;39(11):1240-9.

Automatic orienting of visuospatial attention in Parkinson's disease.

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  • 1W.M. Keck Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of Texas-Houston Medical School, 6431 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77030, USA.


The basal ganglia are involved in not only motor behavior, but also other more cognitive processes, such as attention. We tested Parkinson's disease (PD) patients in a task that measures reflexive orienting of spatial attention. Seven patients with idiopathic PD and eight control subjects performed a covert orienting task where spatial attention was directed by means of exogenous cues (luminance increments) with no predictive validity for target position. The subjects' task was to make a speeded saccade to a visual target, which appeared a variable time after onset of the cue either in the cued or an uncued spatial position. There was no overall difference between PD patients and control subjects in terms of the initial facilitation following reflexive cues, and later inhibition of return (IOR). However, PD patients differed from control subjects in two important respects. First, they were significantly faster than were control subjects on this reflexive visual-orienting task. Second, disease severity correlated with attentional performance; more advanced patients showed less initial facilitation but greater IOR. Thus PD patients show better performance on a reflexive saccade task and, for more advanced patients, greater IOR than control subjects. These findings are consistent with the possibility that reflexive attentional processes in PD patients may be more active.

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