Anticipation and compensation for somatosensory deficits in object handling: evidence from a patient with large fibre sensory neuropathy

  • Parry Ross
  • Sarlegna Fabrice
  • Jarrasse Nathanael
  • Roby-Brami Agnès


The purpose of this study was to determine the contributions of feedforward and feedback processes on grip force regulation and object orientation during functional manipulation tasks. One patient with massive somatosensory loss resulting from large fibre sensory neuropathy, and ten control participants were recruited. Three experiments were conducted: 1) perturbation to static holding; 2) discrete vertical movement; and 3) functional grasp and place. The availability of visual feedback was also manipulated to assess the nature of compensatory mechanisms. Results from experiment 1 indicated that both the deafferented patient and controls used anticipatory grip force adjustments prior to self-induced perturbation to static holding. The patient exhibited increased grip response time, but the magnitude of grip force adjustments remained correlated with perturbation forces in the self-induced and external perturbation conditions. In experiment 2, the patient applied peak grip force substantially in advance of maximum load force. Unlike controls, the patient's ability to regulate object orientation was impaired without visual feedback. In experiment 3, the duration of unloading, transport and release phases were longer for the patient, with increased deviation of object orientation at phase transitions. These findings show that the deafferented patient uses distinct modes of anticipatory control according to task constraints, and that responses to perturbations are mediated by alternative afferent information. The loss of somatosensory feedback thus appears to impair control of object orientation, while variation in the temporal organization of functional tasks may reflect strategies to mitigate object instability associated with changes in movement dynamics.