This study will examine the effectiveness of Braille reading as a sensory training program
for improving symptoms of focal (localized) dystonia, a movement disorder caused by
sustained muscle contractions. Musicians, writers, typists, athletes and others whose work
involves frequent repetitive movements may develop focal dystonia of the hand. Dystonia
patients have an impaired sense of touch, and it is thought that symptoms may improve with
sensory tactile (touch) training.
Patients with task-specific dystonia and healthy normal volunteers may be eligible for this
8-week study. Patients will undergo evaluation of their dystonia and a complete neurologic
examination. Healthy volunteers will have a complete physical examination.
On the first day of the study, after 4 weeks and after 8 weeks, all participants will have a
gap detection test for sensory perception testing. The test uses eight plastic devices
called JVP-Domes with ridges of different widths on the surface. The subject's arm and hand
are held in palm-up position and the right index finger is tested for about 1 second 20
times with each dome. The subject is asked to report whether the direction of the dome is
vertical or horizontal. The test takes about 30 minutes. Patients with dystonia will also
have a their symptoms evaluated at these visits. The evaluation involves completing a
written questionnaire and writing a paragraph.
All participants will be trained in Braille reading at NIH. Sessions will be given every day
the first week, twice a week the second and third weeks, and once a week the following
It has been hypothesized that dystonia may be a sensory disorder. Animal studies as well as
physiological studies of patients with focal dystonia have demonstrated sensory dysfunction.
It has also been shown that patients with dystonia have impaired sensory perception
including when assessed with the JVP gap detection test. This could possibly result from
enlargement and dedifferentiation of representations in the sensory cortex. We therefore
hypothesize that sensory training could improve the impaired sensory perception and hence
improve the dystonia. This study will examine if Braille reading as a sensory training
program can correct the sensory perception and the dystonia. The primary outcome is
improvement in the JVP gap detection test.
Patients with idiopathic task specific dystonia and healthy normal volunteers.
Patients must not be receiving botulinum-toxin treatment or other medications for the past
three months prior to entering the study.
Patients must be able to keep their hand in a pronated 'reading' position for one hour.