Preservation of Eye Movements in Parkinson's Disease Is Stimulus- and Task-Specific

J Neurosci. 2022 Jan 19;42(3):487-499. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1690-21.2021. Epub 2021 Nov 30.


Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease that includes motor impairments, such as tremor, bradykinesia, and postural instability. Although eye movement deficits are commonly found in saccade and pursuit tasks, preservation of oculomotor function has also been reported. Here we investigate specific task and stimulus conditions under which oculomotor function in PD is preserved. Sixteen PD patients and 18 healthy, age-matched controls completed a battery of movement tasks that included stationary or moving targets eliciting reactive or deliberate eye movements: pro-saccades, anti-saccades, visually guided pursuit, and rapid go/no-go manual interception. Compared with controls, patients demonstrated systematic impairments in tasks with stationary targets: pro-saccades were hypometric and anti-saccades were incorrectly initiated toward the cued target in ∼35% of trials compared with 14% errors in controls. In patients, task errors were linked to short latency saccades, indicating abnormalities in inhibitory control. However, patients' eye movements in response to dynamic targets were relatively preserved. PD patients were able to track and predict a disappearing moving target and make quick go/no-go decisions as accurately as controls. Patients' interceptive hand movements were slower on average but initiated earlier, indicating adaptive processes to compensate for motor slowing. We conclude that PD patients demonstrate stimulus and task dependency of oculomotor impairments, and we propose that preservation of eye and hand movement function in PD is linked to a separate functional pathway through the superior colliculus-brainstem loop that bypasses the fronto-basal ganglia network. Our results demonstrate that studying oculomotor and hand movement function in PD can support disease diagnosis and further our understanding of disease progression and dynamics.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Eye movements are a promising clinical tool to aid in the diagnosis of movement disorders and to monitor disease progression. Although Parkinson's disease (PD) patients show some oculomotor abnormalities, it is not clear whether previously described eye movement impairments are task-specific. We assessed eye movements in PD under different visual (stationary vs moving targets) and movement (reactive vs deliberate) conditions. We demonstrate that PD patients are able to accurately track moving objects but make inaccurate eye movements toward stationary targets. The preservation of eye movements toward dynamic stimuli might enable patients to accurately act on the predicted motion path of the moving target. These results can inform the development of tools for the rehabilitation or maintenance of functional performance.

Keywords: Parkinson's disease; eye movements; prediction; preservation of function; saccades; smooth pursuit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*