A neurocomputational model of the effect of cognitive load on freezing of gait in parkinson’s disease

Vignesh Muralidharan, Pragathi P. Balasubramani, V. Srinivasa Chakravarthy*, Moran Gilat, Simon J.G. Lewis, Ahmed A. Moustafa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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Experimental data show that perceptual cues can either exacerbate or ameliorate freezing of gait (FOG) in Parkinson’s Disease (PD). For example, simple visual stimuli like stripes on the floor can alleviate freezing whereas complex stimuli like narrow doorways can trigger it. We present a computational model of the cognitive and motor cortico-basal ganglia loops that explains the effects of sensory and cognitive processes on FOG. The model simulates strong causative factors of FOG including decision conflict (a disagreement of various sensory stimuli in their association with a response) and cognitive load (complexity of coupling a stimulus with downstream mechanisms that control gait execution). Specifically, the model simulates gait of PD patients (freezers and non-freezers) as they navigate a series of doorways while simultaneously responding to several Stroop word cues in a virtual reality setup. The model is based on an actor-critic architecture of Reinforcement Learning involving Utility-based decision making, where Utility is a weighted sum of Value and Risk functions. The model accounts for the following experimental data: (a) the increased foot-step latency seen in relation to high conflict cues, (b) the high number of motor arrests seen in PD freezers when faced with a complex cue compared to the simple cue, and (c) the effect of dopamine medication on these motor arrests. The freezing behavior arises as a result of addition of task parameters (doorways and cues) and not due to inherent differences in the subject group. The model predicts a differential role of risk sensitivity in PD freezers and non-freezers in the cognitive and motor loops. Additionally this first-of-its-kind model provides a plausible framework for understanding the influence of cognition on automatic motor actions in controls and Parkinson’s Disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number649
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


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