Two different compensatory mechanisms are engaged when the nervous system senses errors during a reaching movement. First, on-line feedback control mechanisms produce in-flight corrections to reduce errors in the on-going movement. Second, these errors modify the internal model with which the motor plan is transformed into motor commands for the subsequent movements. What are the neural mechanisms of these compensatory systems? In a previous study, we reported that while on-line error correction was disturbed in patients with Huntington's disease (HD), it was largely intact in patients with cerebellar degeneration. Here we altered dynamics of reaching and studied the effect of error in one trial on the motor commands that initiated the subsequent trial. We observed that in patients with cerebellar degeneration, motor commands changed from trial-to-trial by an amount that was comparable to control subjects. However, these changes were random and were uninformed by the error in the preceding trial. In contrast, the change in motor commands of HD patients was strongly related to the error in the preceding trial. This error-dependent change had a sensitivity that was comparable to healthy controls. As a result, HD patients exhibited no significant deficits in adapting to novel arm dynamics, whereas cerebellar subjects were profoundly impaired. These results demonstrate a double dissociation between on-line and trial-to-trial error correction suggesting that these compensatory mechanisms have distinct neural bases that can be differentially affected by disease.
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