Error-enhancing robot therapy to induce motor control improvement in childhood onset primary dystonia

Claudia Casellato, Alessandra Pedrocchi, Giovanna Zorzi, Giorgio Rizzi, Giancarlo Ferrigno, Nardo Nardocci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Robot-generated deviating forces during multijoint reaching movements have been applied to investigate motor control and to tune neuromotor adaptation. Can the application of force to limbs improve motor learning? In this framework, the response to altered dynamic environments of children affected by primary dystonia has never been studied. Methods. As preliminary pilot study, eleven children with primary dystonia and eleven age-matched healthy control subjects were asked to perform upper limb movements, triangle-reaching (three directions) and circle-writing, using a haptic robot interacting with ad-hoc developed task-specific visual interfaces. Three dynamic conditions were provided, null additive external force (A), constant disturbing force (B) and deactivation of the additive external force again (C). The path length for each trial was computed, from the recorded position data and interaction events. Results: The results show that the disturbing force affects significantly the movement outcomes in healthy but not in dystonic subjects, already compromised in the reference condition: the external alteration uncalibrates the healthy sensorimotor system, while the dystonic one is already strongly uncalibrated. The lack of systematic compensation for perturbation effects during B condition is reflected into the absence of after-effects in C condition, which would be the evidence that CNS generates a prediction of the perturbing forces using an internal model of the environment.The most promising finding is that in dystonic population the altered dynamic exposure seems to induce a subsequent improvement, i.e. a beneficial after-effect in terms of optimal path control, compared with the correspondent reference movement outcome. Conclusions: The short-time error-enhancing training in dystonia could represent an effective approach for motor performance improvement, since the exposure to controlled dynamic alterations induces a refining of the existing but strongly imprecise motor scheme and sensorimotor patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number46
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Dystonia
  • Force field paradigms
  • Internal models
  • Motor adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Health Informatics


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