An agonist-antagonist cerebellar nuclear system controlling eyelid kinematics during motor learning

Front Neuroanat. 2012 Mar 14;6:8. doi: 10.3389/fnana.2012.00008. eCollection 2012.


The presence of two antagonistic groups of deep cerebellar nuclei neurons has been reported as necessary for a proper dynamic control of learned motor responses. Most models of cerebellar function seem to ignore the biomechanical need for a double activation-deactivation system controlling eyelid kinematics, since most of them accept that, for closing the eyelid, only the activation of the orbicularis oculi (OO) muscle (via the red nucleus to the facial motor nucleus) is necessary, without a simultaneous deactivation of levator palpebrae motoneurons (via unknown pathways projecting to the perioculomotor area). We have analyzed the kinetic neural commands of two antagonistic types of cerebellar posterior interpositus neuron (IPn) (types A and B), the electromyographic (EMG) activity of the OO muscle, and eyelid kinematic variables in alert behaving cats during classical eyeblink conditioning, using a delay paradigm. We addressed the hypothesis that the interpositus nucleus can be considered an agonist-antagonist system controlling eyelid kinematics during motor learning. To carry out a comparative study of the kinetic-kinematic relationships, we applied timing and dispersion pattern analyses. We concluded that, in accordance with a dominant role of cerebellar circuits for the facilitation of flexor responses, type A neurons fire during active eyelid downward displacements-i.e., during the active contraction of the OO muscle. In contrast, type B neurons present a high tonic rate when the eyelids are wide open, and stop firing during any active downward displacement of the upper eyelid. From a functional point of view, it could be suggested that type B neurons play a facilitative role for the antagonistic action of the levator palpebrae muscle. From an anatomical point of view, the possibility that cerebellar nuclear type B neurons project to the perioculomotor area-i.e., more or less directly onto levator palpebrae motoneurons-is highly appealing.

Keywords: agonist–antagonist system; cerebellar interpositus neurons; classical eyeblink conditioning; dispersion patterns; eyelid kinematics; kinetic neural commands; motor learning; timing.