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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Mar;107(6):1612-20. doi: 10.1152/jn.00983.2011. Epub 2011 Dec 21.

Active force perception depends on cerebellar function.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA.


Damage to the cerebellum causes characteristic movement abnormalities but is thought to have minimal impact on somatosensory perception. Traditional clinical assessments of patients with cerebellar lesions reveal no perceptual deficits despite the fact that the cerebellum receives substantial somatosensory information. Given that abnormalities have been reported in predicting the visual consequences of movement, we suspect that the cerebellum broadly participates in perception when motor output is required (i.e., active perception). Thus we hypothesize that cerebellar integrity is essential for somatosensory perception that requires motor activity, but not passive somatosensory perception. We compared the perceptual acuity of human cerebellar patients to that of healthy control subjects in several different somatosensory perception tasks with minimal visual information. We found that patients were worse at active force and stiffness discrimination but similar to control subjects with regard to passive cutaneous force detection, passive proprioceptive detection, and passive proprioceptive discrimination. Furthermore, the severity of movement symptoms as assessed by a clinical exam was positively correlated with impairment of active force perception. Notably, within the context of these perceptual tasks, control subjects and cerebellar patients displayed similar movement characteristics, and hence differing movement strategies are unlikely to underlie the differences in perception. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the cerebellum is vital to sensory prediction of self-generated movement and suggest a general role for the cerebellum in multiple forms of active perception.

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