LNCO awarded 4-year SNF grant to study hallucinations in PD

© 2019 EPFL

© 2019 EPFL

Professor Olaf Blanke's proposal "Unravelling the sensorimotor brain mechanisms of hallucinations in PD using neurorobotics" awarded funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second-most common neurodegenerative disorder and is expected to affect 14.2 million people worldwide by 2040. Although PD is defined as a movement disorder, it has recently realized that it also manifests in a wide variety of non-motor symptoms including hallucinations (i.e., perceptions in the absence of any external stimulus). Hallucinations in PD are severe, frequent, and associated with major negative outcomes such as higher mortality rate and cognitive decline. Despite increased research, the underlying neural causes of hallucinations in PD are still poorly understood, and diagnosis and targeted therapy remain challenging. Accordingly, diagnosis of hallucinations in clinical practice relies on subjective verbal descriptions of the patient and correct classification by the physician, differing from symptoms of most medical diseases that are quantified based on objective biomedical markers. 

In "Unravelling the sensorimotor brain mechanisms of hallucinations in PD using neurorobotics", Professor Blanke proposes an entirely novel approach to studying hallucinations in healthy participants and PD patients, based on the fact that the lab's innovative robotic technology can induce a specific hallucination that is the most frequent hallucination in PD patientsonline and under controlled and non-invasive laboratory conditions. Further combining this robotic technology with neuroimaging technology will allow the lab to induce and investigate the brain mechanism of specific hallucinations in healthy participants and PD patients. The ambition of the project is to advance the neuroscientific understanding of PH in health and in patients with PD, paving the way for new neural markers to improve diagnosis, prognosis, and eventually therapy of hallucinations in PD,as well as related hallucinations in major psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia.


Neurological and robot-controlled induction of an apparition. Blanke O, Pozeg P, Hara M, Heydrich L, Serino A, Yamamoto A, Higuchi T, Salomon R, Seeck M, Landis T, Arzy S, Herbelin B, Bleuler H, Rognini G. Curr Biol. 2014 Nov 17;24(22):2681-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.09.049. Epub 2014 Nov 6

A novel manipulation method of human body ownership using an fMRI-compatible master-slave system. Hara M, Salomon R, van der Zwaag W, Kober T, Rognini G, Nabae H, Yamamoto A, Blanke O, Higuchi T. J Neurosci Methods. 2014 Sep 30;235:25-34. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2014.05.038. Epub 2014 Jun 9.

Induction of an illusory shadow person. Arzy S, Seeck M, Ortigue S, Spinelli L, Blanke O. Nature. 2006 Sep 21;443(7109):287.