Temporal Expectation in Focal Hand Dystonia

Brain. 2013 Feb;136(Pt 2):444-54. doi: 10.1093/brain/aws328. Epub 2013 Jan 29.

Abstract

Patients with writer's cramp present sensory and representational abnormalities relevant to motor control, such as impairment in the temporal discrimination between tactile stimuli and in pure motor imagery tasks, like the mental rotation of corporeal and inanimate objects. However, only limited information is available on the ability of patients with dystonia to process the time-dependent features (e.g. speed) of movement in real time. The processing of time-dependent features of movement has a crucial role in predicting whether the outcome of a complex motor sequence, such as handwriting or playing a musical passage, will be consistent with its ultimate goal, or results instead in an execution error. In this study, we sought to evaluate the implicit ability to perceive the temporal outcome of different movements in a group of patients with writer's cramp. Fourteen patients affected by writer's cramp in the right hand and 17 age- and gender-matched healthy subjects were recruited for the study. Subjects were asked to perform a temporal expectation task by predicting the end of visually perceived human body motion (handwriting, i.e. the action performed by the human body segment specifically affected by writer's cramp) or inanimate object motion (a moving circle reaching a spatial target). Videos representing movements were shown in full before experimental trials; the actual tasks consisted of watching the same videos, but interrupted after a variable interval ('pre-dark') from its onset by a dark interval of variable duration. During the 'dark' interval, subjects were asked to indicate when the movement represented in the video reached its end by clicking on the space bar of the keyboard. We also included a visual working memory task. Performance on the timing task was analysed measuring the absolute value of timing error, the coefficient of variability and the percentage of anticipation responses. Patients with writer's cramp exhibited greater absolute timing error compared with control subjects in the human body motion task (whereas no difference was observed in the inanimate object motion task). No effect of group was documented on the visual working memory tasks. Absolute timing error on the human body motion task did not significantly correlate with symptom severity, disease duration or writing speed. Our findings suggest an alteration of the writing movement representation at a central level and are consistent with the view that dystonia is not a purely motor disorder, but it also involves non-motor (sensory, cognitive) aspects related to movement processing and planning.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Dystonic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Dystonic Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Dystonic Disorders / psychology
  • Female
  • Hand*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult