The ability of patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) and healthy subjects to synchronise finger tapping, produced by rhythmic wrist movements, with auditory signals of target frequencies (range 1-5 Hz) and to sustain such rhythms following sudden withdrawal of auditory cues was studied. Healthy subjects were able, in the presence of auditory cues, to duplicate target frequencies accurately over the range investigated both in terms of mean tapping rate and in regularity of tapping. PD patients were less accurate under these conditions and on average tended to tap too rapidly at the lower (1-3 Hz) target frequencies and too slowly at the highest (5 Hz) target frequency. In addition, the variability of their tapping rhythms was generally greater. Healthy subjects were able to sustain tapping rhythms well following suppression of auditory signals. By contrast, withdrawal of external timing cues resulted in marked impairment of the patients' rhythm generation. At lower frequency targets (1-3 Hz) patients' tapping rates increased over rates which were already elevated in the presence of external cues. Conversely, at higher target frequencies (4-5 Hz), the average tapping rate tended to decline further from previously depressed levels. The accuracy of almost all patients fell outside the normal range. Two patterns of tapping errors were found. The first was hastening of tapping which was most evident at intermediate target frequencies. The second was faltering which occurred mainly at the higher target frequencies. These forms of behaviour may result from inherent abnormalities of internal rhythm generation since they occurred both in the presence and absence of external timing signals. Overall, our findings are consistent with the view that the basal ganglia have a role in the internal cueing of repetitive voluntary movements.
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