Facilitating Motor Skill Learning by Aerobic Training in Parkinson’s Disease (FaST-PD)

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by a steadily progressive loss of movement quality and safety. Movement therapy interventions aim particularly at maintaining and (re-)learning basic motor functions. The positive effect of skill practice is based on central nervous reorganization processes (i.e. neuroplasticity), and thus can be understood as a form of memory formation. This ability, also known as motor learning, remains preserved during the course of disease, but it is largely reduced compared to the age norm. Therefore, a major goal of current therapy research is to identify strategies to optimize impaired motor memory formation. A promising approach is based on current studies that have shown to increase motor memory formation in healthy adults by combining motor practice with an acute cardiovascular exercise stimulus. The FaST-PD project aims to investigate whether these effects can also be obtained in PD patients. Within the project, a total of three experiments are planned.

In the first experiment motor skill practice (balancing on a stability platform) will be preceded by the exercise bout and compared to a control group resting prior to skill practice. We will investigate potential effects on motor memory formation by analyzing online (i.e. performance change during practice session) and offline (performance change between end of practice and a retention test 24 hours later) skill gains.


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Recent research suggests that the acute exercise effects on motor memory formation might be even more effective when the exercise bout is scheduled immediately after skill practice. This phenomenon is suggested to be related to stronger effects on memory consolidation, but has only been proven in healthy adults. Since the consolidation process (i.e. memory stabilization following skill practice) of (newly) acquired movements is particularly impaired in PD, post-practice exercise appears very promising, and therefore will be tested in the second experiment.


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In the third part of the FaST-PD project, the paradigm investigated in experiments #1 and #2 will be transfered to a therapy scenario with a six-week interventional phase. We will examine how the regular direct coupling of motor skill practice (i.e. balancing on a stability platform) with cardiovascular exercise bouts affects the consolidation and automatization of the practiced balance task.


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Period: 2017 – 2021

Principal investigator: PD Dr. Simon Steib

Project staff: Philipp Wanner, Florian Ostermair

Associated researcher / clinicians:

  • University hospital Erlangen – Department of molcular neurology (Prof. Dr. med. Jürgen Winkler, Prof. Dr. med. Jochen Klucken);
  • Sana Krankenhaus Rummelsberg / Nuremberg – Klinik für Neurologie (PD Dr. Martin Winterholler);
  • Klinikum Würzburg Mitte, Standort Juliusspital – Abteilung für Neurologie (Prof. Dr. med. Mathias Mäurer)

Funding: German Foundation Neurology (Deutsche Stiftung Neurology – DSN)

Further information:  Motor Control and Health Lab