Cerebellar-M1 Connectivity Changes Associated with Motor Learning Are Somatotopic Specific

J Neurosci. 2017 Mar 1;37(9):2377-2386. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2511-16.2017. Epub 2017 Jan 30.


One of the functions of the cerebellum in motor learning is to predict and account for systematic changes to the body or environment. This form of adaptive learning is mediated by plastic changes occurring within the cerebellar cortex. The strength of cerebellar-to-cerebral pathways for a given muscle may reflect aspects of cerebellum-dependent motor adaptation. These connections with motor cortex (M1) can be estimated as cerebellar inhibition (CBI): a conditioning pulse of transcranial magnetic stimulation delivered to the cerebellum before a test pulse over motor cortex. Previously, we have demonstrated that changes in CBI for a given muscle representation correlate with learning a motor adaptation task with the involved limb. However, the specificity of these effects is unknown. Here, we investigated whether CBI changes in humans are somatotopy specific and how they relate to motor adaptation. We found that learning a visuomotor rotation task with the right hand changed CBI, not only for the involved first dorsal interosseous of the right hand, but also for an uninvolved right leg muscle, the tibialis anterior, likely related to inter-effector transfer of learning. In two follow-up experiments, we investigated whether the preparation of a simple hand or leg movement would produce a somatotopy-specific modulation of CBI. We found that CBI changes only for the effector involved in the movement. These results indicate that learning-related changes in cerebellar-M1 connectivity reflect a somatotopy-specific interaction. Modulation of this pathway is also present in the context of interlimb transfer of learning.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Connectivity between the cerebellum and motor cortex is a critical pathway for the integrity of everyday movements and understanding the somatotopic specificity of this pathway in the context of motor learning is critical to advancing the efficacy of neurorehabilitation. We found that adaptive learning with the hand affects cerebellar-motor cortex connectivity, not only for the trained hand, but also for an untrained leg muscle, an effect likely related to intereffector transfer of learning. Furthermore, we introduce a novel method to measure cerebellar-motor cortex connectivity during movement preparation. With this technique, we show that, outside the context of learning, modulation of cerebellar-motor cortex connectivity is somatotopically specific to the effector being moved.

Keywords: adaptation; cerebellum; connectivity; somatotopy; transcranial magnetic stimulation.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time
  • Transfer, Psychology
  • Young Adult