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Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Jan 16;6:351. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00351. eCollection 2012.

Advanced Parkinson's disease effect on goal-directed and habitual processes involved in visuomotor associative learning.

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INSERM U1028, Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, IMPACT Team Lyon, France ; CNRS UMR5292, Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, IMPACT Team Lyon, France ; University Lyon 1 Lyon, France.


The present behavioral study re-addresses the question of habit learning in Parkinson's disease (PD). Patients were early onset, non-demented, dopa-responsive, candidates for surgical treatment, similar to those we found earlier as suffering greater dopamine depletion in the putamen than in the caudate nucleus. The task was the same conditional associative learning task as that used previously in monkeys and healthy humans to unveil the striatum involvement in habit learning. Sixteen patients and 20 age- and education-matched healthy control subjects learned sets of 3 visuo-motor associations between complex patterns and joystick displacements during two testing sessions separated by a few hours. We distinguished errors preceding vs. following the first correct response to compare patients' performance during the earliest phase of learning dominated by goal-directed actions with that observed later on, when responses start to become habitual. The disease significantly retarded both learning phases, especially in patients under 60 years of age. However, only the late phase deficit was disease severity-dependent and persisted on the second testing session. These findings provide the first corroboration in Parkinson patients of two ideas well-established in the animal literature. The first is the idea that associating visual stimuli to motor acts is a form of habit learning that engages the striatum. It is confirmed here by the global impairment in visuo-motor learning induced by PD. The second idea is that goal-directed behaviors are predominantly caudate-dependent whereas habitual responses are primarily putamen-dependent. At the advanced PD stages tested here, dopamine depletion is greater in the putamen than in the caudate nucleus. Accordingly, the late phase of learning corresponding to the emergence of habitual responses was more vulnerable to the disease than the early phase dominated by goal-directed actions.


Parkinson's disease; feedback-based learning; goal-directed actions; habits; striatum

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