A cerebellar deficit in sensorimotor prediction explains movement timing variability

J Neurophysiol. 2008 Nov;100(5):2825-32. doi: 10.1152/jn.90221.2008. Epub 2008 Sep 24.


A popular theory is that the cerebellum functions as a timer for clocking motor events (e.g., initiation, termination). Consistent with this idea, cerebellar patients have been reported to show greater deficits during hand movements that repeatedly start and stop (i.e., discontinuous movements) compared with continuous hand movements. Yet, this finding could potentially be explained by an alternate theory in which the cerebellum acts as an internal model of limb mechanics. We tested whether a timing or internal model hypothesis best explains results from a circle-drawing task, where individuals trace a circle with the hand at a desired tempo. We first attempted to replicate prior results showing greater impairment for discontinuous versus continuous circling movements, and then asked whether we could improve patient performance by reducing demands in each domain. First, we slowed the movement down to reduce the need to predict and compensate for limb dynamics. Second, we supplied external timing information to reduce the need for an internal event timer. Results showed that we did not replicate the previous findings-cerebellar patients were impaired in both discontinuous and continuous movements. Slowing the movement improved cerebellar performance to near control values. The addition of an external visual timing signal paradoxically worsened timing deficits rather than mitigating them. One interpretation of these combined results is that the cerebellum is indeed functioning as an internal model and is needed to make appropriate predictions for movement initiation and termination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cerebellar Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Fingers / innervation
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Perceptual Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Psychophysics
  • Time Perception / physiology*