The neural optimal control hierarchy for motor control

The Journal of Neural Engineering, 2011

Travis DeWolf, Chris Eliasmith


Our empirical, neuroscientific understanding of biological motor systems has been rapidly growing in recent years. However, this understanding has not been systematically mapped to a quantitative characterization of motor control based in control theory. Here, we attempt to bridge this gap by describing the neural optimal control hierarchy (NOCH), which can serve as a foundation for biologically plausible models of neural motor control. The NOCH has been constructed by taking recent control theoretic models of motor control, analyzing the required processes, generating neurally plausible equivalent calculations and mapping them on to the neural structures that have been empirically identified to form the anatomical basis of motor control. We demonstrate the utility of the NOCH by constructing a simple model based on the identified principles and testing it in two ways. First, we perturb specific anatomical elements of the model and compare the resulting motor behavior with clinical data in which the corresponding area of the brain has been damaged. We show that damaging the assigned functions of the basal ganglia and cerebellum can cause the movement deficiencies seen in patients with Huntington's disease and cerebellar lesions. Second, we demonstrate that single spiking neuron data from our model's motor cortical areas explain major features of single-cell responses recorded from the same primate areas. We suggest that together these results show how NOCH-based models can be used to unify a broad range of data relevant to biological motor control in a quantitative, control theoretic framework.

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