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Neuropsychologia. 1997 Apr;35(4):519-32.

Spatial and non-spatial working memory at different stages of Parkinson's disease.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, UK.


Groups of patients with Parkinson's disease, either medicated or unmedicated, were compared with a matched group of normal control subjects on a computerized battery of tests designed to assess spatial, verbal and visual working memory. In the spatial working memory task, subjects were required to search systematically through a number of boxes to find 'tokens' whilst avoiding those boxes in which tokens had previously been found. In the visual and verbal conditions, the subjects were required to search in exactly the same manner, but through a number of abstract designs or surnames, respectively, avoiding designs or names in which a token had previously been found. Medicated Parkinson's disease patients with severe clinical symptoms were impaired on all three tests of working memory. In contrast, medicated patients with mild clinical symptoms were impaired on the test of spatial working memory, but not on the verbal or visual working memory tasks. Non-medicated patients with mild clinical symptoms were unimpaired on all three tasks. These data are compared with the results of a previous study comparing groups of neurosurgical patients with frontal, temporal or amygdalo-hippocampectomy excisions on the same three tests of working memory. Taken together, the findings suggest that working memory deficits in Parkinson's disease emerge, and subsequently progress, according to a defined sequence, the evolution of which may be linked to the likely spatiotemporal progression of dopamine depletion within the striatum, in relation to the terminal distribution of its cortical afferents.

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