Cerebellar ataxia: Abnormal control of interaction torques across multiple joints

A. J. Bastian, T. A. Martin, J. G. Keating, W. T. Thach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1. We studied seven subjects with cerebellar lesions and seven control subjects as they made reaching movements in the sagittal plane to a target directly in front of them. Reaches were made under three different conditions: 1) 'slow-accurate,' 2) 'fast-accurate,' and 3) 'fast as possible.' All subjects were videotaped moving in a sagittal plane with markers on the index finger, wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Marker positions were digitized and then used to calculate joint angles. For each of the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints, inverse dynamics equations based on a three-segment limb model were used to estimate the net torque (sum of components) and each of the component torques. The component torques consisted of the torque due to gravity, the dynamic interaction torques induced passively by the movement of the adjacent joint, and the torque produced by the muscles and passive tissue elements (sometimes called 'residual' torque). 2. A kinematic analysis of the movement trajectory and the change in joint angles showed that the reaches of subjects with cerebellar lesions were abnormal compared with reaches of control subjects. In both the slow-accurate and fast-accurate conditions the cerebellar subjects made abnormally curved wrist paths; the curvature was greater in the slow-accurate condition. During the slow-accurate condition, cerebellar subjects showed target undershoot and tended to move one joint at a time (decomposition). During the fast accurate reaches, the cerebellar subjects showed target overshoot. Additionally, in the fast-accurate condition, cerebellar subjects moved the joints at abnormal rates relative to one another, but the movements were less decomposed. Only three subjects were tested in the fast as possible condition; this condition was analyzed only to determine maximal reaching speeds of subjects with cerebellar lesions. Cerebellar subjects moved more slowly than controls in all three conditions. 3. A kinetic analysis of torques generated at each joint during the slow- accurate reaches and the fast-accurate reaches revealed that subjects with cerebellar lesions produced very different torque profiles compared with control subjects. In the slow-accurate condition, the cerebellar subjects produced abnormal elbow muscle torques that prevented the normal elbow extension early in the reach. In the first-accurate condition, the cerebellar subjects produced inappropriate levels of shoulder muscle torque and also produced elbow muscle torques that did not vary appropriately with the dynamic interaction torques that occurred at the elbow. Lack of appropriate muscle torque resulted in excessive contributions of the dynamic interaction torque during the fast-accurate reaches. 4. The inability to produce muscle torques that predict, accommodate, and compensate for the dynamic interaction torques appears to be an important cause of the classic kinematic deficits shown by cerebellar subjects during attempted reaching. These kinematic deficits include incoordination of the shoulder and the elbow joints, a curved trajectory, and overshoot. In the fast-accurate condition, cerebellar subjects often made inappropriate muscle torques relative to the dynamic interaction torques. Because of this, interaction torques often determined the pattern of incoordination of the elbow and shoulder that produced the curved trajectory and target overshoot. In the slow-accurate condition, we reason that the cerebellar subjects may use a decomposition strategy so as to simplify the movement and not have to control both joints simultaneously. From these results, we suggest that a major role of the cerebellum is in generating muscle torques at a joint that will predict the interaction torques being generated by other moving joints and compensate for them as they occur.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)492-509
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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