Motor learning and its sensory effects: time course of perceptual change and its presence with gradual introduction of load.

Journal of neurophysiology

PubMedID: 23136347

Mattar AA, Darainy M, Ostry DJ. Motor learning and its sensory effects: time course of perceptual change and its presence with gradual introduction of load. J Neurophysiol. 2013;109(3):782-91.
A complex interplay has been demonstrated between motor and sensory systems. We showed recently that motor learning leads to changes in the sensed position of the limb (Ostry DJ, Darainy M, Mattar AA, Wong J, Gribble PL. J Neurosci 30: 5384-5393, 2010). Here, we document further the links between motor learning and changes in somatosensory perception. To study motor learning, we used a force field paradigm in which subjects learn to compensate for forces applied to the hand by a robotic device. We used a task in which subjects judge lateral displacements of the hand to study somatosensory perception. In a first experiment, we divided the motor learning task into incremental phases and tracked sensory perception throughout. We found that changes in perception occurred at a slower rate than changes in motor performance. A second experiment tested whether awareness of the motor learning process is necessary for perceptual change. In this experiment, subjects were exposed to a force field that grew gradually in strength. We found that the shift in sensory perception occurred even when awareness of motor learning was reduced. These experiments argue for a link between motor learning and changes in somatosensory perception, and they are consistent with the idea that motor learning drives sensory change.