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Hum Brain Mapp. 1999;8(1):1-12.

Impaired somatosensory discrimination of shape in Parkinson's disease: association with caudate nucleus dopaminergic function.

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Department of Neurology, Kantonsspital St. Gallen, Switzerland.


Tactile discrimination of macrogeometric objects in a two-alternative forced-choice procedure represents a demanding task involving somatosensory pathways and higher cognitive processing. The objects for somatosensory discrimination, i.e., rectangular parallelepipeds differing only in oblongness, were presented in sequential pairs to normal volunteers and 12 parkinsonian patients. The performance of patients was significantly impaired compared to normal volunteers. From a biochemical point of view, the patients were characterized by a severely reduced 6-[18F]-fluoro-L-dopa (FDOPA) tracer metabolism in the basal ganglia, as measured using positron emission tomography (PET). Furthermore, reduced specific FDOPA metabolism in the putamen was consistent with the impaired motor capacities of the patients. The reduced specific FDOPA-uptake within the caudate nucleus was associated with additionally diminished somatosensory discrimination. This association, of low perception during task performance and decreased FDOPA-uptake, provides direct evidence for the role of the caudate nucleus in the cognitive part of the task. We suggest that directed attention and working memory were critically involved as a result of disturbed interactions between the head of the caudate nucleus and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Furthermore, there were indications of an additional involvement of the mesolimbic system, which might be of importance during challenging situations such as forced choice. We conclude that differential effects on parts of the basal ganglia, during evolution of the degenerative process characteristic of Parkinson's disease, have profound consequences on the performance of skills, as shown here for a somatosensory discrimination task.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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