The temporal structure of arm movements was studied in nine cerebellar patients with mild impairment of the upper limbs and in six age-matched control subjects. The experimental paradigm consisted of visually guided, step tracking movements about the elbow. Movements ranged from 10 degrees to 70 degrees in amplitude and were made under different instructions (fast, fast/accurate, accurate). As in normal subjects, cerebellar patients were able to scale peak velocity with movement amplitude. This relationship was highly linear under all instruction conditions. Similar relationships existed between movement duration and amplitude. In contrast to normal subjects who produced movements with nearly symmetric velocity profiles, movements made by cerebellar patients were characterised by short acceleration and long deceleration durations. The degree of asymmetry was directly related to movement duration but was unaffected by movement peak velocity. Acceleration durations did not increase beyond 300 ms even in movements lasting up to 1s. These findings demonstrate that, despite little or no obvious impairment of the limb during routine examination, the temporal structure of voluntary movements in cerebellar patients is clearly disturbed. This supports the view that the production of an optimal movement trajectory is under cerebellar influence.
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