Processing of multiple kinematic signals in the cerebellum and motor cortices

M. T V Johnson, T. J. Ebner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The cerebellum and motor cortices are hypothesized to make fundamentally different but synergistic contributions to the control of movement. Richly interconnected, these structures must communicate and translate salient parameters of movement. This review examines the similarities and differences in the encoding of multiple limb movement parameters in the cerebellum and motor cortices. Also presented are recent data on direction and speed coding by cerebellar Purkinje cells and primary motor and dorsal premotor cortical neurons during a visually-instructed, manual tracking task. Both similarities and differences have been found in the way that these two motor areas process movement parameters. For example, the two motor control structures encode direction with almost identical depths of modulation, which may simplify the exchange of directional signals. Two major differences between the cerebellum and motor cortices consist of the distribution of the preferred directions and the manner in which direction and speed are jointly signaled within the discharge of individual neurons. First, an anterior-posterior distribution of preferred directions has been shown for both reaching and manual tracking, consistent with an intrinsic reference frame and/or the structure of afferent input. In contrast, neurons in the motor cortices have uniformly distributed preferred directions, consistent with general purpose directional calculations. Secondly, Purkinje cells in the cerebellum and motor cortices combine movement direction and speed information differently. For example, Purkinje cell discharge encodes combinations of direction and speed, a 'preferred velocity', while the motor cortical neurons use a temporal parcellation scheme to encode multiple parameters of movement. These results demonstrate that the cerebellum and motor cortices process and use kinematic information in fundamentally different ways that may underlie the functional uniqueness of the two motor control structures. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-168
Number of pages14
JournalBrain Research Reviews
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Sep 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank Mike McPhee for assistance with graphics. The work was supported in part by NIH grants 5R01-NS31530, 2R01-NS18338, and NSF grant IBN-9873478 and a grant from the Human Frontier Science Program.


  • Cerebellum
  • Dorsal premotor cortex
  • Linear regression
  • Macaca Mulatta
  • Motor control
  • Primary motor cortex
  • Primate
  • Purkinje cell
  • Pursuit tracking


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