State estimation in the cerebellum

Cerebellum. 2008;7(4):572-6. doi: 10.1007/s12311-008-0072-6.


An exciting hypothesis about the cerebellum is that its role is one of state estimation--a process that combines efferent copies of motor commands with afferent sensory signals to produce a representation of the current status of the peripheral motor system. Sensory inputs alone cannot provide a perfect state signal because of inevitable delays in their afferent pathways. We have recently reported the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the ipsilateral cerebellum as healthy subjects made rapid reaching movements towards visually defined targets (Miall et al. in PLoS Biology 5:2733-2744, 2007). Errors in the initial direction and in the final finger position of this reach-to-target movement were consistent with the reaching movements being planned and initiated from an estimated hand position that was about 138 ms out of date. This interval is consistent with estimates of the delays in sensory motor pathways that would inform the central nervous system of the peripheral status. We now report new data using the same paradigm, testing the effects of varying the TMS stimulus train from one, two, or three pulses. We show that the errors in movement are relatively insensitive to the TMS pulse-train duration. The estimated time interval by which the hand position is mislocalized varied by only 12 ms as the TMS train duration increased by 100 ms. Thus, this interval is likely to reflect physiological processes within the cerebellum rather than the TMS-stimulus duration. This new evidence supports our earlier claim that the cerebellum is responsible for predictively updating a central state estimate over an interval of about 120-140 ms. Dysfunction of the cerebellum, whether through disease or experimental procedures, leads to motor errors consistent with a loss of knowledge of the true state of the motor system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology*
  • Cerebellar Diseases / diagnosis
  • Cerebellar Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Cerebellum / physiopathology
  • Cues
  • Fingers / innervation
  • Hand / innervation
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Posture
  • Reaction Time
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • User-Computer Interface