Memory deficits in Parkinson's disease are associated with reduced beta power modulation

Hayley MacDonald, John-Stuart Brittain, Bernhard Spitzer, Simon Hanslmayr, Ned Jenkinson

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There is an increasing recognition of the significant non-motor symptoms that burden people with Parkinson’s disease. As such, there is a pressing need to better understand and investigate the mechanisms underpinning these non-motor deficits. The electrical activity within the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease is known to exhibit excessive power within the beta range (12–30 Hz), compared with healthy controls. The weight of evidence suggests that this abnormally high level of beta power is the cause of bradykinesia and rigidity in Parkinson’s disease. However, less is known about how the abnormal beta rhythms seen in Parkinson’s disease impact on non-motor symptoms. In healthy adults, beta power decreases are necessary for successful episodic memory formation, with greater power decreases during the encoding phase predicting which words will subsequently be remembered. Given the raised levels of beta activity in people with Parkinson’s disease, we hypothesized that the necessary decrease in power during memory encoding would be diminished and that this would interfere with episodic memory formation. Accordingly, we conducted a cross-sectional, laboratory-based experimental study to investigate whether there was a direct relationship between decreased beta modulation and memory formation in Parkinson’s disease. Electroencephalography recordings were made during an established memory-encoding paradigm to examine brain activity in a cohort of adults with Parkinson’s disease (N = 28, 20 males) and age-matched controls (N = 31, 18 males). The participants with Parkinson’s disease were aged 65 ± 6 years, with an average disease duration of 6 ± 4 years, and tested on their normal medications to avoid the confound of exacerbated motor symptoms. Parkinson’s disease participants showed impaired memory strength (P = 0.023) and reduced beta power decreases (P = 0.014) relative to controls. Longer disease duration was correlated with a larger reduction in beta modulation during encoding, and a concomitant reduction in memory performance. The inability to sufficiently decrease beta activity during semantic processing makes it a likely candidate to be the central neural mechanism underlying this type of memory deficit in Parkinson’s disease. These novel results extend the notion that pathological beta activity is causally implicated in the motor and (lesser appreciated) non-motor deficits inherent to Parkinson’s disease. These findings provide important empirical evidence that should be considered in the development of intelligent next-generation therapies.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfcz040
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalBrain Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2019


  • Parkinson's disease
  • episodic memory
  • semantic encoding
  • beta power


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