Patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) show slowed movement initiation and can have deficits in executive function, leading to impairments in controlling involuntary behavior. This results in difficulties performing an antisaccade, which requires one to suppress an automatic eye movement (a prosaccade) to a visual stimulus, and execute a voluntary eye movement in the opposite direction. Antisaccade deficits are similar to those seen in task switching, whereby one is required to change a response after performing a different behavior. Both antisaccade (Hood et al., 2007) and task switching (Cools, Barker, Sahakian, & Robbins, 2001) deficits in PD have been attributed to fronto-basal ganglia (BG) dysfunction. Previously, we demonstrated with functional magnetic resonance imaging that BG circuitry is important to both task switching and voluntary saccade generation, as greater caudate activation was seen when healthy young adults first prepared a prosaccade, but then switched to an antisaccade (Cameron, Coe, et al., 2009). Therefore, we hypothesized that PD patients would have difficulty switching from one saccade response to the other, with particular impairment in switching from a pro to an antisaccade. Here, we not only confirmed this prediction, but also showed that PD patients performed better than controls in switching from an anti to a prosaccade. This suggests that task switching deficits in PD are particularly pronounced when more automatic behavior needs to be overridden with alternative behavior. We suggest that this occurs primarily at the level of establishing the appropriate task set, which is an internalized rule that governs how to respond.
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