Proprioceptive loss and the perception, control and learning of arm movements in humans: evidence from sensory neuronopathy

  • Miall R. Chris
  • Kitchen Nick
  • Nam Se-Ho
  • Lefumat Hannah
  • Renault Alix
  • Ørstavik Kristin
  • Cole Jonathan
  • Sarlegna F R


It is uncertain how vision and proprioception contribute to adaptation of voluntary arm movements. In normal participants, adaptation to imposed forces is possible with or without vision, suggesting that proprioception is sufficient; in participants with proprioceptive loss (PL), adaptation is possible with visual feedback, suggesting that proprioception is unnecessary. In experiment 1 adaptation to, and retention of, perturbing forces were evaluated in three chronically deafferented participants. They made rapid reaching movements to move a cursor toward a visual target, and a planar robot arm applied orthogonal velocity-dependent forces. Trial-by-trial error correction was observed in all participants. Such adaptation has been characterized with a dual-rate model: a fast process that learns quickly, but retains poorly and a slow process that learns slowly and retains well. Experiment 2 showed that the PL participants had large individual differences in learning and retention rates compared to normal controls. Experiment 3 tested participants' perception of applied forces. With visual feedback, the PL participants could report the perturbation's direction as well as controls; without visual feedback, thresholds were elevated. Experiment 4 showed, in healthy participants, that force direction could be estimated from head motion, at levels close to the no-vision threshold for the PL participants. Our results show that proprioceptive loss influences perception, motor control and adaptation but that proprioception from the moving limb is not essential for adaptation to, or detection of, force fields. The differences in learning and retention seen between the three deafferented participants suggest that they achieve these tasks in idiosyncratic ways after proprioceptive loss, possibly integrating visual and vestibular information with individual cognitive strategies.