The cerebellum is critically important for error-driven adaptive motor learning, as evidenced by the fact that cerebellar patients do not adapt well to sudden predictable perturbations. However, recent work has shown that cerebellar patients adapt much better if the perturbation is gradually introduced. Here we explore physiological mechanisms that underlie this distinction between abrupt and gradual motor adaptation in humans. We used transcranial magnetic stimulation to evaluate whether neural mechanisms within the cerebellum contribute to either process during a visuomotor reach adaptation. When a visuomotor rotation was introduced abruptly, cerebellar excitability changed early in learning and approached baseline levels near the end of the adaptation block. However, we observed no modulation of cerebellar excitability whenwepresented the visuomotor rotation gradually during learning. Similarly, wedid not observe cerebellar modulation during trial-by-trial adaptation to random visuomotor displacements or during reaches without perturbations. This suggests that the cerebellum is most active during the early phases of adaptation when large perturbations are successfully compensated.
ASJC Scopus subject areas