After centuries of being overlooked, the cerebellum is getting due recognition.
Until 1998, most neuroscientists adhered to the ancient notion that the cerebellum (Latin for “little brain”) was only responsible for motor functions and had nothing to do with cognition. Prior to Jeremy Schmahmann publishing three back-to-back, game-changing papers at the end of the 20th century, it was widely believed that the human cerebellum oversaw the timing and coordination of fine-tuned muscle movements, but was definitely not involved in cerebral “thinking” or cognitive thoughts.
Thanks to the trailblazing efforts of Schmahmann and other cerebellar pioneers over the past two decades, the misinformed “motor function only” conception of the cerebellum has been debunked. Today, most neuroscientists agree that in addition to a wide range of motor functions, the cerebellum is also involved in multiple cognitive, emotional, social, and linguistic nonmotor functions.
Zhenyu Gao et al. have shown that specific regions of the cerebellum are active in short-term memory, even when the body is not in motion. Remarkably, the researchers found direct evidence using a mouse model that memory activity in the frontal cortex appears to be dependent on activity in the cerebellum.
A recent study was conducted by an international research collaborative led by senior author Nuo Li and his lab team at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas along with neuroscientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, and first author Zhenyu Gao and colleagues at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The most significant aspect of the latest mouse-model study from the Nuo Li Lab is that the researchers were able to focus on neural activity in the cerebellum during periods when a test subject wasn’t moving but was thinking about its next move.
. . . Psychology Today
The cerebellum monitors and regulates motor behavior, particularly automatic movements. Some recent studies have associated the cerebellum with cognitive functions, such as (learning and attention.
Although the cerebellum accounts for roughly 10% of total brain weight, it contains more neurons than the rest of the brain combined.
The cerebellum is also one of the few mammalian brain structures where adult neurogenesis (the development of new neurons) has been confirmed.
The cerebellum is important to the timing of rhythmic movements. A recent neuroimaging study by Brown and colleagues (2006) examined the neural basis of dance and found evidence of cerebellar activity during entrainment (synchronizing timing and movement with musical rhythm).
– coordination of voluntary movement motor-learning – balance – reflex memory – posture – timing – sequencial learning
Associated cognitive disorders
Individuals with autism sometimes walk with a clumsy gait, a phenomenon that has been linked to the cerebellum. Schizophrenia and dyslexia have also been associated with cerebellar dysfunction.
Associated with damage
– loss of fine coordination – tremor – inability to walk – dizziness (vertigo) – slurred speech