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Parkinson's disease makes it harder to figure out how other people feel
Date:3/3/2010

opa (the usual drug for the disease); 20 advanced patients given apomorphine hydrochloride by injection or infusion pump while they waited an implant; and 30 healthy controls.

Researchers tested all participants using standard photographs of facial expression before and three months after they were treated. Before implantation of the stimulators, all participants read facial expressions equally well.

Patients in the surgical group were implanted with stimulators, electrical devices that prod the brain's subthalamic nucleus, a small, lens-shaped structure, to normalize the nerve signals that control movement. This nucleus is part of the basal ganglia system, which is thought to integrate movement, cognition and emotion.

Three months after treatment, only the patients with stimulators not the drug-treated patients or the healthy controls were significantly worse at recognizing fear and sadness. Patients with stimulators confused those expressions with others, such as surprise, or even no emotion. Medicated patients and healthy controls were either accurate about fear and sadness or occasionally mistook them for other negative emotions, such as disgust.

"Having Parkinson's predisposes an individual to errors in emotion recognition," said Gray. "The research in France, along with previous studies, indicates that deep-brain stimulation produces an even more severe deficit."

Why would treating a movement disorder affect the perception of emotions? Implants affect a part of the brain that reaches across functions, so the authors suggested that the same electrical stimulation that calms over-excited motor activity may also somehow inhibit emotional processing.

Although the impact of Parkinson's and deep-brain stimulation varies by patient, it's important to understand. "The first step is to educate patients and their close associates about the potential for emotion recognition difficulties, so they can learn to manag
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Source:Eurekalert

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