Pilot Project Grant
Graduate student award
Amount awarded over 1 year: $44,907
A novel exercise modality to improve motor learning in PD
For someone with Parkinson’s disease, the simple desire to grasp a glass of water can become an insurmountable task, made impossible by the tremors in their hand or arm. Finding strategies to improve these movement impairments is one of the major goals of rehabilitating people with Parkinson’s disease.
At McGill University, Marc Roig, an assistant professor in the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, is studying the effects of using high-intensity exercise to stimulate the brain’s ability to learn and change with repeated experiences.
Roig and his team are working with people who have Parkinson’s disease, to see if they can improve their ability to move and to complete tasks like grabbing an object. The team is using high-intensity cardiovascular exercise to provoke changes in the brain that make it easier to train itself to relearn motor tasks.
“One of the main problems with people with Parkinson’s is they lose their ability to do very simple motor tasks,” says Roig, a neuroscientist. “We want to understand why this happens and try to find interventions to improve that.”
Roig believes exercise may be the key to triggering the brain’s ability to change and to open a window to improve motor learning. He will use Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a form of non-invasive brain imaging that moves a magnetic coil over the skull, to map the areas of the brain he wants to measure. By attaching electrodes to the muscles of the hand and then moving the magnetic coil until the fingers move, his team will be able to map the changes in the brain that occur before and after intense exercise, and to record changes in the brain activity of people with Parkinson’s who are on medication and those who are not on medication.
After they exercise, the people enrolled in Roig’s study will also have to complete a task involving the application of force in a computer game, to measure whether the exercise and the burst of brain chemicals it stimulates also improves their motor ability.
Most people with Parkinson’s disease eventually take a synthetic form of dopamine, called levodopa, to replace the levels of this brain signalling chemical that Parkinson’s depletes. Roig is also testing his theory that the people with Parkinson’s will need their medication to take advantage of the improvements exercise can produce.
“With the new information, we can better understand how exercise interacts with dopamine and with motor learning,” Roig says.
His goal is to use that information to create new interventions during rehabilitation, and to explore the response of different areas of the brain.
“The final goal is to try to improve the quality of life of these people, but to do that you need to understand the mechanisms of the disease,” Roig says.
Eventually, his work may lead to new techniques and new rehabilitative interventions that can help people with Parkinson’s use exercise to train their brains to complete the simple tasks of everyday life that come so easily to others without this disease.