Summary

In this article, we have focused on the neural regions involved in the performance of learned motor skills. The article is admittedly selective. For example, the cortical section did not discuss the contribution of prefrontal cortex despite extensive imaging evidence showing consistent activation in this region during motor learning and motor performance. However, the role of prefrontal cortex is likely not specific to motor learning. The prefrontal cortex is often characterized as performing operations relating to executive control rather than encoding motor skill for long-term storage. Thus, this structure may be most critical during the initial performance of novel tasks, playing a smaller role as learning progresses.

This article included a description of several cortical regions. Nonetheless, the emphasis was on the basal ganglia and cerebellum. The cerebellum and basal ganglia do not project directly to one another, and the cortex, particularly sites within the frontal lobe, is most likely the locus of interaction between the two structures. We characterized the cerebellum and basal ganglia as performing very different functions, with the cerebellum tuning motor commands in relation to sensory feedback and the basal ganglia scheduling action goals for motor processes to achieve.

Our focus on the subcortex reflects a bias in the literature: It is striking how many computational theories have been developed concerning the function of the cerebellum and basal ganglia, and that there is a dearth of such theories for cortical function, at least in terms of motor learning. Does this dominance of subcortical structures reflect limitations in our current understanding or does it indicate that the cerebellum and basal ganglia play a predominant role in motor learning? Although these possibilities are not exclusive, one factor to bear in mind is that the comparatively homogeneous architecture of the subcortical structures may make them excellent systems to model. That is, the connections within these neural structures follow a mostly linear arrangement, with neural signals moving along well-defined pathways. In contrast, the organization of the cortex appears much more complex, and the flow of information is much less easily determined. In short, the state of computational models may stem from general differences in the neural architecture of cortical and subcortical regions.

See Also the Following Articles

APRAXIA • BASAL GANGLIA • CEREBELLUM • CEREBRAL CORTEX • MOTOR CONTROL • MOTOR CORTEX • MOTOR NEURON DISEASE • MULTISENSORY INTEGRATION • NEURODEGENERATIVE DISORDERS • PARKINSON'S DISEASE

Understanding And Treating Autism

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