Unravelling the brain’s internal sensory and motor models of standing


Standing balance is generally maintained automatically, without much thought. How are we able to do this? Theory suggests this automatic control of standing balance relies on internal models within the brain of both sensory and motor systems, used to predict and compensate for postural disturbances. What remains unanswered is how these internal sensory and motor models separately adapt to changing conditions of standing balance. Answering this question will have major impact, since an inability to adapt the brain’s internal models of standing places us at serious risk of injuries due to falls, which in turn leads to considerable healthcare burdens.

This multidisciplinary project springboards off my recent work characterizing conditions under which sensory channels are regulated to generate context-dependent responses maintaining posture. This project will go beyond observing balance behaviour and aims to understand how the brain uses internal representations of sensory and motor systems to keep us upright. I hypothesize that internal sensory and motor models are differentially adapted within the brain. These neural processes are essential to accommodate the multisensory and variable conditions of standing balance in daily life. The properties of these separate models will be uncoupled for the first time using a state-of-the-art robotic balance simulator and novel sensory gain-manipulation techniques developed in this project.

This research will 1) investigate how internal motor models of standing are adapted to novel changes in the mechanics of the body; 2) characterize neural principles driving updates in internal vestibular sensory models; and 3) assess how internal representations of gravity contribute to keeping humans upright. This research is an innovative leap forward, and uses a conceptual modelling framework to distinguish between the sensory and motor structures essential to upright standing. The knowledge and methods developed here will impact several fields, including fall-prevention, rehabilitation medicine, human-robot interaction and human space exploration.





Dr. ir. P.A. Forbes

Verbonden aan

Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, Erasmus MC, Neurowetenschappen


01/09/2017 tot 31/08/2020