Movement Disorders Lab

The mission of the Movement Disorders Laboratory is to gain a greater understanding of the mechanisms causing movement problems in people with neurological disorders and to translate this knowledge to the development of novel therapies and interventions to improve movement function, mobility and quality of life.

The Movement Disorders Laboratory uses a variety of non-invasive neurophysiological techniques (high-resolution EEG, TMS, tDCS, startle) to probe the cortical, subcortical and spinal mechanisms contributing to movement impairment. In collaboration with colleagues at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR), we also use brain imaging methods to examine the changes in brain anatomy and connectivity associated with movement disorders. These methods are combined with quantitative measures of movement (3D-kinematics, kinetics and multi-channel electromyography) that provide an objective quantitative assessment of movement performance.

Our present research focus is to examine the mechanisms contributing to motor symptoms of basal ganglia dysfunction in Parkinson's disease. We are able to quantify impairments in steady-state gait, gait initiation, rigidity, bradykinesia, tremor, repetitive movements, and speech. The laboratory is currently examining the relationship between postural instability, freezing of gait and sleep disorders in people with Parkinson's disease (funded by NIH grant RO1 NS088679), the mechanisms by which external cues facilitate gait initiation in PD (NIH RO1 070264), and how activating different basal ganglia pathways with deep brain stimulation can alter motor symptoms (NIH RO1 NS085188, PI Noam Harel). We are also part of the Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson's Research to advance the basic understanding and therapeutic efficacy of deep brain stimulation technology.


Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson's Research (Project 2)
Sponsor: NIH

Project Description: Over the past few years there has been a resurgence of interest in using the internal segment of the globus pallidus (GPi) as the target for deep brain stimulation (DBS). Yet, despite increased consideration of the pallidum as a target, surprisingly little is known about the neurophysiological characteristics of resting and movement-related activity across the pallidum (from the ventral GPi to the external segment of the pallidum, GPe) or the optimal site and frequency of stimulation required to produce the therapeutic effects. The goal of this project is to gain a greater understanding of the mechanisms, locations and pathways mediating the effects (both adverse and beneficial) of pallidal DBS on clinical and quantitative measures of motor function, including speech.

The experiments will be conducted in individuals with chronically implanted stimulators in the pallidum. A subset of subjects will be implanted with the Medtronic Activa RC+S DBS system, allowing us to obtain recordings of resting and task-related local field potentials. The project will use clinical and quantitative assessments to assess the effects of dorsal vs. ventral GPi vs. GPe stimulation. State-of-the-art high-field (7T) MRI (anatomical and diffusion scans) and patient-specific tractography-activation models (developed by Dr. Cameron McIntyre) will be used to examine the structures and pathways mediating the therapeutic effects of pallidal stimulation. We hypothesize that stimulation in dorsal regions of the pallidum, within of near to the border between the GPi and GPe will have a powerful anti-akinetic effect that improves repetitive movements, gait, postural stability and speech.

Predictors of progression to freezing in gait of Parkinson's disease
Sponsor: NIH NINDS

Project Description: Postural instability and gait disturbances, including freezing of gait are common, disabling and poorly understood symptoms that afflict approximately half of all patients with Parkinson's disease. With disease progression, these symptoms become resistant to treatment and are major causes of falls, immobility and increased morbidity. Currently, there are no effective treatments. This project will conduct a series of experiments to establish that neurodegenerative processes that disrupt the control muscle activity during REM sleep are closely linked to postural instability and gait dysfunction. Assessments of sleep, motor function (gait, gait initiation, postural stability), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measures will be obtained in patients with early-stage Parkinson's disease and healthy controls. These volunteers will be followed for three years to map the progression of changes in sleep, motor function and organization of brainstem locomotor pathways. Since REM sleep disturbances can often be recognized years or decades before the emergence of parkinsonian motor symptoms, establishing a link between sleep and motor symptoms may allow for early intervention to slow or prevent disease progression.

Mechanisms of movement Facilitation and Research By Cueing in Parkinson's Disease
Sponsor: NIH NINDS

Project Description: In a large subset of patients with Parkinson's disease, one of the most disabling aspects of their disorder is a syndrome characterized by episodic impairments in the initiation of gait (termed start hesitation) in conjunction with freezing of gait (FOG). Currently, there are no effective treatments for these symptoms. Yet, it is well known that under certain contexts, the provision of external cues can markedly facilitate gait initiation. This project will investigate the optimal strategies for cueing movement initiation to improve the efficacy and reliability of cueing in clinical and home settings and to develop standardized cueing protocols for portable devices. In addition, we will examine the mechanisms and pathways that enable external cues to circumvent impaired gait initiation with the goal to develop novel therapeutic interventions that facilitate these pathways.


Selected Publications

Stegemöller, EL, Allen, DP, Simuni, T, & MacKinnon, CD (2017). Altered premotor cortical oscillations during repetitive movement in persons with Parkinson's disease. Behav Brain Res. 317(1): 141-146.

Stegemöller EL, Allen DP, Simuni T, MacKinnon CD. (2016) Motor cortical oscillations are abnormally suppressed during repetitive movement in patients with Parkinson's disease. Clin Neurophysiol. 127(1):664-74.

Alibiglou, L, Videnovic, A, Planetta, PJ, Vaillancourt, DE, & MacKinnon, CD (2016). Subliminal gait initiation deficits in rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder: A harbinger of freezing of gait? Mov Disord.

Wright ZA, Carlsen AN, MacKinnon CD, Patton JL. (2015) Degraded expression of learned feedforward control in movements released by startle. Exp Brain Res. 233(8):2291-300.

Eagles JS, Carlsen AN, MacKinnon CD. (2015) Neural processes mediating the preparation and release of focal motor output are suppressed or absent during imagined movement. Exp Brain Res. 233(5):1625-37.

All Publications


Principal Investigator

  • Colum D. McKinnon, PhD

Research Coordinators

Research Associates/Fellows

  • Sommer L. Amundsen Huffmaster, PhD
  • Matthew N. Petrucci, PhD

Graduate Students

  • Daniel Bergevin-Smith, SPT
  • Danielle Berres, SPT
  • Hannah Bergeson, SPT

Undergraduate Students

  • Krista Keranen
  • Valerie Hatchlowski
  • Rebecca Hendrickson
  • Justin Hill
  • Abby Kohut-Jackson
  • Devin O'Connell


  • Jerrold L. Vitek (University of Minnesota)
  • Noam Harel (University of Minnesota)
  • Paul J. Tuite (University of Minnesota)
  • Scott Cooper (University of Minnesota)
  • Chiahao Lu (University of Minnesota)
  • Martha Nance (Struthers)
  • Julia Johnson(Health Partners)
  • Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler(University of Illinois)
  • Daniel Corcos (University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • Mark Rogers (University of Maryland Baltimore)
  • Eric Perrault (Northwestern University)
  • John Rothwell (Institute of Neurology, London)
  • Jules Dewald (Northwestern University)
  • C.J. Heckman (Northwestern University)
  • Monica Gorassini (University of Alberta)

Research Positions

Potential Research Volunteers

We often are in need of volunteers to participate in our research studies. We are currently looking for people with Parkinson's disease and healthy persons to use as our control group. If you are interested in volunteering please contact our research coordinator, Joshua De Kam. Some, but not all, studies may be listed below.

Project title: Predictors of progress to freezing of gait in Parkinson's disease

Thank you for your interest in learning more about this study.

The problem we are studying: We are seeking volunteers to participate in a research study examining the relationship between sleep disturbances and the development of movement problems in people with Parkinson's disease. Movement problems such as freezing of gait are common causes of falls for people with Parkinson's disease and can have a major impact on mobility and quality of life.

The project: We think there might be a link between disturbances in sleep early in disease and the development of walking, balance and freezing problems. This is potentially important because the sleep disturbances we are studying are often seen a long time before a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease is made. If there is a link between sleep and movement problems, then routine sleep studies can be used to identify people in early stages of disease who may be at risk of developing balance and walking problems so that early interventions can be used to possibly slow or prevent these symptoms.

Who can participate? We are looking for:

  • volunteers between the ages of 21 and 75 who have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, or
  • volunteers between the ages of 21 and 75 who do not have Parkinson's disease

Time commitment: You will be asked to visit the University for 3 baseline visits which include a screening visit, sleep study, movement tests and brain imaging scans (MRI). Three years later you will be asked to repeat the same visits.

Compensation: You will be paid $300 for completing the baseline visits and $300 when you complete the visits at 3 years. We will pay for all costs of the tests, your transportation to and from the University and any meals.

If you are interested in or have questions about this study please contact:

Joshua De Kam, Project Coordinator
Department of Neurology
University of Minnesota
Office: (612) 626-8052


Graduate Student Positions

If you are interested in volunteering or working in our lab please contact Dr. MacKinnon.

Undergraduate Student Positions

If you are interested in volunteering or working in our lab please contact Dr. MacKinnon.