Functional relation between corticonuclear input and movements evoked on microstimulation in cerebellar nucleus interpositus anterior in the cat

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The term 'synergy' - from the Greek synergia - means 'working together'. The concept of multiple elements working together towards a common goal has been extensively used in neuroscience to develop theoretical frameworks, experimental approaches, and analytical techniques to understand neural control of movement, and for applications for neuro-rehabilitation.

The functional relation between receptive fields of climbing fibres projecting to the C1, C3 and Y zones and forelimb movements controlled by nucleus interpositus anterior via the rubrospinal tract were studied in cats decerebrated at the pre-collicular level. Microelectrode tracks were made through the caudal half of nucleus interpositus anterior. This part of the nucleus receives its cerebellar cortical projection from the forelimb areas of these three sagittal zones. The C3 zone has been demonstrated to consist of smaller functional units called microzones. Natural stimulation of the forelimb skin evoked positive field potentials in the nucleus. These potentials have previously been shown to be generated by climbing fibre-activated Purkinje cells and were mapped at each nuclear site, to establish the climbing fibre receptive fields of the afferent microzones. The forelimb movement evoked by microstimulation at the same site was then studied. The movements usually involved more than one limb segment. Shoulder retraction and elbow flexion were frequently evoked, whereas elbow extension was rare and shoulder protraction never observed. In total, movements at the shoulder and/or elbow occurred for 96% of the interpositus sites. At the wrist, flexion and extension movements caused by muscles with radial, central or ulnar insertions on the paw were all relatively common. Pure supination and pronation movements were also observed. Movements of the digits consisted mainly of dorsal flexion of central or ulnar digits. A comparison of climbing fibre receptive fields and associated movements for a total of 110 nuclear sites indicated a general specificity of the input-output relationship of this cerebellar control system. Several findings suggested that the movement evoked from a particular site would act to withdraw the area of the skin corresponding to the climbing fibre receptive field of the afferent microzones. For example, sites with receptive fields on the dorsum of the paw were frequently associated with palmar flexion at the wrist, whereas sites with receptive fields on the ventral side of the paw and forearm were associated with dorsiflexion at the wrist. Correspondingly, receptive fields on the lateral side of the forearm and paw were often associated with flexion at the elbow, whereas sites with receptive fields on the radial side of the forearm were associated with elbow extension. The proximal movements that were frequently observed also for distal receptive fields may serve to produce a general shortening of the limb to enhance efficiency of the withdrawal. It has previously been suggested that the cerebellar control of forelimb movements via the rubrospinal tract has a modular organisation. Each module would consist of a cell group in the nucleus interpositus anterior and its afferent microzones in the C1, C3 and Y zones, characterised by a homogenous set of climbing fibre receptive fields. The results of the present study support this organisational principle, and suggest that the efferent action of a module is to withdraw the receptive field from an external stimulus. Possible functional interpretations of the action of this system during explorative and reaching movements are discussed.

This paper reviews the main insights provided by this framework. Specifically, we provide an overview of neuroscientific bases of hand synergies and introduce how robotics has leveraged the insights from neuroscience for innovative design in hardware and controllers for biomedical engineering applications, including myoelectric hand prostheses, devices for haptics research, and wearable sensing of human hand kinematics. The review also emphasizes how this multidisciplinary collaboration has generated new ways to conceptualize a synergy-based approach for robotics, and provides guidelines and principles for analyzing human behavior and synthesizing artificial robotic systems based on a theory of synergies.

AuthorsEkerot, C F; Jörntell, H; Garwicz, M
JournalExperimental Brain Research