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Considerable evidence suggests a role of beta-band oscillations in voluntary movements. However, most of the studies linking beta power to motor performance are based on data averaged across trials that ignore the fast dynamics of oscillatory activity and trial-to-trial variations in motor responses. Recently, emphasis has shifted from the functional implications of the mean beta power to the presence and nature of episodic bursts of beta activity. Here we test the hypothesis that beta bursts, though short in duration in more physiological state, may help explain spontaneous variations in motor behavior of human adults at the single-trial level. To this end, we recorded local field potential activity from the subthalamic nucleus of parkinsonian patients of both genders whose motor behavior had been normalized as far as possible through treatment with the dopamine prodrug, levodopa. We found that beta bursts present in a time-limited window well before movement onset in the contralateral subthalamic nucleus reduce the peak velocity of that movement and that this effect is further amplified by the amplitude of the burst. Additionally, prolonged reaction times are observed when bursts occur immediately after the GO cue. Together, these results suggest that the modulation of the timing and amplitude of beta bursts might serve to dynamically adapt motor performance. These results offer new insight in the pathology of Parkinson's disease, and suggest that beta bursts whose presence and nature are modulated by context may have a physiological role in modulating behavior.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Beta oscillations (∼13-30 Hz) have been increasingly interpreted as transient bursts rather than as rhythmically sustained oscillations (Feingold et al., 2015). Prolonged and increased probability of beta bursts in the subthalamic nucleus correlates with the severity of motor impairment in Parkinson's disease (Tinkhauser et al., 2017a, b). However, it remains unclear whether beta bursts act to modify motor performance on a trial-by-trial basis under more physiological condition. Here, we found that, according to the time window in which they fall, beta bursts reduced the velocity of the forthcoming movement or prolonged the reaction time. These results offer new insight in the pathology of Parkinson's disease and also suggest that the modulation of beta bursts might serve to dynamically adapt motor performance.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





8905 - 8917


Parkinson's disease, beta bursts, beta oscillations, motor performance, reaching movement, subthalamic nucleus