NPJ Parkinsons Dis
Over the last decades, psychophysical and electrophysiological studies in patients and animal models of Parkinson's disease (PD), have consistently revealed a number of visual abnormalities. In particular, specific alterations of contrast sensitivity curves, electroretinogram (ERG), and visual-evoked potentials (VEP), have been attributed to dopaminergic retinal depletion. However, fundamental mechanisms of cortical visual processing, such as normalization or "gain control" computations, have not yet been examined in PD patients. Here, we measured electrophysiological indices of gain control in both space (surround suppression) and time (sensory adaptation) in PD patients based on steady-state VEP (ssVEP). Compared with controls, patients exhibited a significantly higher initial ssVEP amplitude that quickly decayed over time, and greater relative suppression of ssVEP amplitude as a function of surrounding stimulus contrast. Meanwhile, EEG frequency spectra were broadly elevated in patients relative to controls. Thus, contrary to what might be expected given the reduced contrast sensitivity often reported in PD, visual neural responses are not weaker; rather, they are initially larger but undergo an exaggerated degree of spatial and temporal gain control and are embedded within a greater background noise level. These differences may reflect cortical mechanisms that compensate for dysfunctional center-surround interactions at the retinal level.
School of Medicine