The role of the cerebellum in modulating voluntary limb movement commands.

L. E. Miller, R. N. Holdefer, J. C. Houk


We recorded the activity of cerebellar Purkinje cells (PCs), primary motor cortical (M1) neurons, and limb EMG signals while monkeys executed a sequential reaching and button pressing task. PC simple spike discharge generally correlated well with the activity of one or more forelimb muscles. Surprisingly, given the inhibitory projection of PCs, only about one quarter of the correlations were negative. The largest group of neurons burst during movement and were positively correlated with EMG signals, while another significant group burst and were negatively correlated. Among the PCs that paused during movement most were negatively correlated with EMG. The strength of these various correlations was somewhat weaker, on average, than equivalent correlations between M1 neurons and EMG signals. On the other hand, there were no significant differences in the timing of the onset of movement related discharge among these groups of PCs, or between the PCs and M1 neurons. PC discharge was modulated largely in phase, or directly out of phase, with muscle activity. The nearly synchronous activation of PCs and muscles yielded positive correlations, despite the fact that the synaptic effect of the PC discharge is inhibitory. The apparent function of this inhibition is to restrain activity in the limb premotor network, shaping it into a spatiotemporal pattern that is appropriate for controlling the many muscles that participate in this task. The observed timing suggests that the cerebellar cortex learns to modulate PC discharge predictively. Through the cerebellar nucleus, this PC signal is combined with an underlying cerebral cortical signal. In this manner the cerebellum refines the descending command as compared with the relatively crude version generated when the cerebellum is damaged.

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