The cerebellum has long been recognized to play an important role in motor adaptation. Individuals with cerebellar ataxia exhibit impaired learning in visuomotor adaptation tasks such as prism adaptation and force field learning. Both types of tasks involve the adjustment of an internal model to compensate for an external perturbation. This updating process is error driven, with the error signal based on the difference between anticipated and actual sensory information. This process may entail a credit assignment problem, with a distinction made between error arising from faulty representation of the environment and error arising from noise in the controller. We hypothesized that people with ataxia may perform poorly at visuomotor adaptation because they attribute a greater proportion of their error to their motor control difficulties. We tested this hypothesis using a computational model based on a Kalman filter. We imposed a 20-deg visuomotor rotation in either a single large step or in a series of smaller 5-deg steps. The ataxic group exhibited a comparable deficit in both conditions. The computational analyses indicate that the patients' deficit cannot be accounted for simply by their increased motor variability. Rather, the patients' deficit in learning may be related to difficulty in estimating the instability in the environment or variability in their motor system.
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