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Open Access Research article

A retrospective analysis of hand tapping as a longitudinal marker of disease progression in Huntington’s disease

Lucy M Collins1, Stanley E Lazic2* and Roger A Barker1

Author Affiliations

1 John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair, Cambridge, UK

2 In Silico Lead Discovery, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Basel, Switzerland

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BMC Neurology 2014, 14:35  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-14-35

Published: 24 February 2014

Abstract

Background

Current clinical assessments of motor function in Huntington’s Disease (HD) rely on subjective ratings such as the Unified Huntington’s Disease Rating scale (UHDRS). The ability to track disease progression using simple, objective, inexpensive, and robust measures would be beneficial.

Methods

One objective measure of motor performance is hand-tapping. Over the last 14 years we have routinely collected, using a simple device, the number of taps made by the right and left hand over 30 seconds in HD patients attending our NHS clinics.

Results

Here we report on a longitudinal cohort of 237 patients, which includes patients at all stages of the disease on a wide range of drug therapies. Hand tapping in these patients declines linearly at a rate of 5.1 taps per year (p < 0.0001; 95% CI = 3.8 to 6.3 taps), and for each additional year of age patients could perform 0.9 fewer taps (main effect of age: p = 0.0007; 95% CI = 0.4 to 1.4). Individual trajectories can vary widely around this average rate of decline, and much of this variation could be attributed to CAG repeat length. Genotype information was available for a subset of 151 patients, and for each additional repeat, patients could perform 5.6 fewer taps (p < 0.0001; 95% CI = 3.3 to 8.0 taps), and progressed at a faster rate of 0.45 fewer taps per year (CAG by time interaction: p = 0.008; 95% CI = 0.12 to 0.78 taps). In addition, for each unit decrease in Total Functional Capacity (TFC) within individuals, the number of taps decreased by 6.3 (95% CI = 5.4 to 7.1, p < 0.0001).

Conclusions

Hand tapping is a simple, robust, and reliable marker of disease progression. As such, this simple motor task could be a useful tool by which to assess disease progression as well therapies designed to slow it down.

Keywords:
Huntington’s disease; Biomarker; Hand tapping