The Errors of Our Ways: Understanding Error Representations in Cerebellar-Dependent Motor Learning

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35 Scopus citations


The cerebellum is essential for error-driven motor learning and is strongly implicated in detecting and correcting for motor errors. Therefore, elucidating how motor errors are represented in the cerebellum is essential in understanding cerebellar function, in general, and its role in motor learning, in particular. This review examines how motor errors are encoded in the cerebellar cortex in the context of a forward internal model that generates predictions about the upcoming movement and drives learning and adaptation. In this framework, sensory prediction errors, defined as the discrepancy between the predicted consequences of motor commands and the sensory feedback, are crucial for both on-line movement control and motor learning. While many studies support the dominant view that motor errors are encoded in the complex spike discharge of Purkinje cells, others have failed to relate complex spike activity with errors. Given these limitations, we review recent findings in the monkey showing that complex spike modulation is not necessarily required for motor learning or for simple spike adaptation. Also, new results demonstrate that the simple spike discharge provides continuous error signals that both lead and lag the actual movements in time, suggesting errors are encoded as both an internal prediction of motor commands and the actual sensory feedback. These dual error representations have opposing effects on simple spike discharge, consistent with the signals needed to generate sensory prediction errors used to update a forward internal model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-103
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank Lijuan Zhou for technical support and Kris Bettin for manuscript preparation. Supported in part by NIH grants R01 NS18338 and T32 GM008471 and NSF grant IGERT DGE-1069104.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media New York.

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Cerebellum
  • Complex spikes
  • Internal model
  • Motor learning
  • Purkinje cells
  • Simple spikes

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