What features of limb movements are encoded in the discharge of cerebellar neurons?

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This review examines the signals encoded in the discharge of cerebellar neurons during voluntary arm and hand movements, assessing the state of our knowledge and the implications for hypotheses of cerebellar function. The evidence for the representation of forces, joint torques, or muscle activity in the discharge of cerebellar neurons is limited, questioning the validity of theories that the cerebellum directly encodes the motor command. In contrast, kinematic parameters such as position, direction, and velocity are widely and robustly encoded in the activity of cerebellar neurons. These findings favor hypotheses that the cerebellum plans or controls movements in a kinematic framework, such as the proposal that the cerebellum provides a forward internal model. Error signals are needed for on-line correction and motor learning, and several hypotheses postulate the need for their representations in the cerebellum. Error signals have been described mostly in the complex spike discharge of Purkinje cells, but no consensus has emerged on the exact information signaled by complex spikes during limb movements. Newer studies suggest that simple spike firing may also encode error signals. Finally, Purkinje cells located more posterior and laterally in the cerebellar cortex and dentate neurons encode nonmotor, task-related signals such as visual cues. These results suggest that cerebellar neurons provide a complement of information about motor behaviors. We assert that additional single unit studies are needed using rich movement paradigms, given the power of this approach to directly test specific hypotheses about cerebellar function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)683-693
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We wish to thank Michael McPhee for graphics and Kris Bettin for preparation of the manuscript. This study was supported in part by NIH grants NS18338 and NS071686-01.


  • Cerebellar nuclei
  • Cerebellum
  • Force
  • Kinematics
  • Purkinje cell
  • Simple spike


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