BACKGROUND: Motor and nonmotor timing functions and cross-modal processing of visual-tactile signals may be linked to basal ganglia. These neural structures are thought to be dysfunctional in dystonia.
OBJECTIVE: To test whether cross-modal stimulation influences deficits of temporal discrimination in dystonia.
METHODS: Eight patients with generalized dystonia and 10 control subjects were asked to discriminate whether pairs of unimodal (tactile or visual) and cross-modal (visual and tactile) stimuli were simultaneous or sequential and, in the latter case, which stimulus preceded the other. Visual stimuli consisted of red lights and tactile stimuli of non-noxious electrical shocks. Intervals between stimuli in each pair were increased from 0 to 400 msec (in steps of 10 msec).
RESULTS: Patients with dystonia recognized the asynchrony between the experimental stimuli and judged correctly which stimulus in a pair came first, at significantly longer intervals than did controls. Moreover, differences in performance between patients and controls were maximal for cross-modal stimuli. The defective performance of patients with dystonia in the cross-modal combinations showed a high positive correlation with the severity of symptoms.
CONCLUSION: Patients with generalized dystonia present with difficulties both in timing functions and in cross-modal processing of visual-tactile stimuli.