We explored the multi-digit synergies and hand performance in object manipulations and pressing tasks in patients with early-stage Parkinson’s disease (PD) and healthy controls. Synergies were defined as inter-trials co-variation patterns among forces/moments produced by individual digits that stabilized a resultant mechanical variable. The subjects performed three main tasks: pressing (steady-state force production followed by a force pulse into the target), prehension (manipulation of a handheld instrumented handle imitating the action of taking a sip from a glass), and functional object manipulation (moving a glass with water as quickly and accurately as possible along a chain of targets). The PD patients were slower compared to controls in all three tasks. Patients showed smaller synergy indices in the pressing and prehension tasks. In the prehension tasks, patients showed elevated grip force at steady states with smaller grip force modulation during the handle motion. PD patients showed smaller feed-forward synergy adjustments in preparation to the quick action in the pressing and (to a smaller degree) prehension tasks. Synergy indices correlated with the time index of performance in the functional glass-with-water task, whereas none of the indices correlated with the Unified PD Rating Scale part III—motor scores. We interpret the results as pointing at an important role of subcortical structures in motor synergies and their feed-forward adjustments to action.
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