Background: Bradykinesia is a cardinal feature of Parkinson's disease (PD). Despite its disabling impact, the precise cause of this symptom remains elusive. Recent thinking suggests that bradykinesia may be more than simply a manifestation of motor slowness, and may in part reflect a specific deficit in the operation of motivational vigour in the striatum. In this paper we test the hypothesis that movement time in PD can be modulated by the specific nature of the motivational salience of possible action-outcomes.
Methodology/principal findings: We developed a novel movement time paradigm involving winnable rewards and avoidable painful electrical stimuli. The faster the subjects performed an action the more likely they were to win money (in appetitive blocks) or to avoid a painful shock (in aversive blocks). We compared PD patients when OFF dopaminergic medication with controls. Our key finding is that PD patients OFF dopaminergic medication move faster to avoid aversive outcomes (painful electric shocks) than to reap rewarding outcomes (winning money) and, unlike controls, do not speed up in the current trial having failed to win money in the previous one. We also demonstrate that sensitivity to distracting stimuli is valence specific.
Conclusions/significance: We suggest this pattern of results can be explained in terms of low dopamine levels in the Parkinsonian state leading to an insensitivity to appetitive outcomes, and thus an inability to modulate movement speed in the face of rewards. By comparison, sensitivity to aversive stimuli is relatively spared. Our findings point to a rarely described property of bradykinesia in PD, namely its selective regulation by everyday outcomes.