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Fast cerebellar networks compensate for inadequacies of the sensory system

Biological control of body movements with its versatility and elegance remains unsurpassed compared to that of any man-made machine and continues to thrill and delight us, both by watching or by performing them ourselves. Top athletes and other virtuosi can perform sequences of movements with a temporal precision of a millisecond (1/1000 second). However, how this is accomplished remains a mystery. In a recent study published in the journal Nature communications by Fahad Sultan (Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research, University Hospital Tübingen) and colleagues the researchers were able to show that brain-networks that control movements work with remarkable temporal precision.

Using a combination of electrical stimulation and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRT) the researchers could watch how the brain reacted to synthetic stimuli. In a collaboration between the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research and the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics within the Werner-Reichardt-Center for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN), the researchers showed in animal experiments with rhesus monkeys that stimulation of the cerebellum led to activities in widespread brain regions with a thousandth of a second precision. The study could also demonstrate for the first time responses in brain regions that are known to deal with tactile, vestibular, visual and auditory sensory information processing. The results show that motor control and sensory perception are intertwined even at higher integration centers of the brain. The results also help to solve another problem. During the movement of an arm for example the sensory receptors signal the brain the state of the arm. However due to the delays introduced by the nerve fibers slow conduction velocity, these information come too late to be of use for adjusting the movement by the brain. Scientists have suspected for some time that the cerebellum could provide for the solution. The cerebellum could provide forward models of motor plants predicting the sensory consequences of actions.

These results are of considerable relevance for understanding the consequences of diseases of the cerebellum for motion control and motion perception. Consequences that have to be taken into account for rehabilitation and so far have only been made on purely empirical methods. The results also have important consequences for robotics, which deals with similar problems in motor control.

Title publication: Cerebellar pathways project to motor and sensory parietal networks with high temporal precision. Published 26.06.2012 in Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1912. Authors: Fahad Sultan, Mark Augath, Salah Hamodeh, Yusuke Murayama, Axel Oeltermann, Alexander Rauch, Peter Thier.


Dr. Fahad Sultan Hertie-Institut für klinische Hirnforschung (HIH), Universitätsklinikum Tübingen, Zentrum für Neurologie Telefon: 07071-2980464 E-Mail: fahad.sultan@uni-tuebingen.de

Hertie-Institut für klinische Hirnforschung Externe Pressestelle : Kirstin Ahrens Telefon: 07073-500 724, Mobil: 0173-300 53 96 mail@kirstin-ahrens.de

Universitätsklinikum Tübingen Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit Dr. Ellen Katz Telefon: 07071-29 80 112 Mail: Ellen.Katz@med.uni-tuebingen.de

idw :: 27.06.2012