Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that leads to deficits in both visual perception and locomotion. Research to date has neglected to determine whether PD affects the perception of a unique and important visual cue, that of human body motion (biological motion). PD patients'ability to perceive biological motion may be tied to their locomotion deficits, a link suggested by a common coding system between motor function and action perception that is mediated by frontal, motor, and parietal cortices known to be dysfunctional in PD. This perception-action link also suggests that visual training using human motion may be effective in rehabilitating the locomotion deficits in PD. The goals of the proposed study are to investigate biological motion perception and its relation to locomotion in PD (Aim1), and to determine whether visual training using biological motion can improve locomotion deficits in PD (Aim 2).
Aim 1 will measure PD patients'sensitivity to perceiving biological motion characterized by different walking speeds and locomotion patterns. The hypotheses are that PD patients will be impaired at perceiving healthy (faster) walking speeds and locomotion patterns, and that patients'locomotion deficits will significantly predict the extet of their impairment in biological motion perception.
Aim 2 will use a visual training paradigm that will help patients to discriminate between abnormal, inefficient locomotion and healthy, efficient locomotion. Patients'locomotion will be measured naturalistically at home using activity monitoring in order to determine whether the visual training leads to functional changes in locomotion in patients'daily lives. Together, these goals will enable researchers and clinicians to better understand how PD affects the visual analysis of other humans and their actions, a perceptual ability that is critical to effective social functioning. It will also allow researchersto elucidate the perception-action link in PD, including the specific relation between real-world locomotion and biological motion perception, and how this is affected by PD-related neural dysfunction. Finally, it will provide data regarding the effectiveness of a novel intervention that may improve patients'disordered locomotion. These data will be critically important in establishing whether visual training can be used as a rehabilitation technique in PD that would improve patients'natural walking ability in daily life.

Public Health Relevance

Parkinson's disease leads to deficits in visual and motor abilities that can negatively affect patients'quality of life, and this research will increase knowledge on how individuals with Parkinson's disease perceive human body movements and how this ability is affected by their own limitations in producing body movements. This research will also attempt to study whether patients'walking difficulties can be improved by training them to visually differentiate between normal and impaired walking. The knowledge gained will allow patients and their caregivers to better understand visual and motor deficits in Parkinson's disease and provide important evidence about the effectiveness of an intervention that can improve the debilitating motor limitations that patients suffer from.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F02B-M (20))
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Babcock, Debra J
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Boston University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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