Hand function is impaired in healthy older adults at risk of Parkinson’s disease

Gabrielle Todd*, Miranda Haberfield, Patrick L. Faulkner, Caroline Rae, Michael Hayes, Robert A. Wilcox, Janet L. Taylor, Simon C. Gandevia, Jana Godau, Daniela Berg, Olivier Piguet, Kay L. Double

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Abnormal substantia nigra morphology in healthy individuals, viewed with transcranial ultrasound, is a significant risk factor for Parkinson’s disease. However, little is known about the functional consequences of this abnormality (termed ‘hyperechogenicity’) on movement. The aim of the current study was to investigate hand function in healthy older adults with (SN+) and without (SN-) substantia nigra hyperechogenicity during object manipulation. We hypothesised that SN+ subjects would exhibit increased grip force and a slower rate of force application compared to SN- subjects. Twenty-six healthy older adults (8 SN+ aged 58 ± 8 years, 18 SN- aged 57 ± 6 years) were asked to grip and lift a light-weight object with the dominant hand. Horizontal grip force, vertical lift force, acceleration, and first dorsal interosseus EMG were recorded during three trials. During the first trial, SN+ subjects exhibited a longer period between grip onset and lift onset (i.e. preload duration; 0.27 ± 0.25 s) than SN- subjects (0.13 ± 0.08 s; P = 0.046). They also exerted a greater downward force prior to lift off (-0.54 ± 0.42 N vs. -0.21 ± 0.12 N; P = 0.005) and used a greater grip force to lift the object (19.5 ± 7.0 N vs. 14.0 ± 4.3 N; P = 0.022) than SN-subjects. No between group differences were observed in subsequent trials. SN+ subjects exhibit impaired planning for manipulation of new objects. SN+ individuals overestimate the grip force required, despite a longer contact period prior to lifting the object. The pattern of impairment observed in SN+ subjects shares similarities with de novo Parkinson’s disease patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1377-1386
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neural Transmission
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Hand
  • Object manipulation
  • Substantia nigra
  • Transcranial ultrasound


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