Great attention has been given so far to cerebellar control of posture and of skilled movements despite the well-demonstrated interconnections between the cerebellum and the autonomic nervous system. Here is a review of the link between these two structures and a report on the recently acquired evidence for its involvement in the world of emotions. In rodents, the reversible inactivation of the vermis during the consolidation or the reconsolidation period hampers the retention of the fear memory trace. In this region, there is a long-term potentiation of both the excitatory synapses between the parallel fibres and the Purkinje cells and of the feed-forward inhibition mediated by molecular layer interneurons. This concomitant potentiation ensures the temporal fidelity of the system. Additional contacts between mossy fibre terminals and Golgi cells provide morphological evidence of the potentiation of another feed-forward inhibition in the granular layer. Imaging experiments show that also in humans the cerebellum is activated during mental recall of emotional personal episodes and during learning of a conditioned or unconditioned association involving emotions. The vermis participates in fear learning and memory mechanisms related to the expression of autonomic and motor responses of emotions. In humans, the cerebellar hemispheres are also involved at a higher emotional level. The importance of these findings is evident when considering the cerebellar malfunctioning in psychiatric diseases like autism and schizophrenia which are characterized behaviourally by emotion processing impairments.
Keywords: Cerebellar vermis; Emotions; Fear learning and memory; Feed-forward inhibition; LTP/LTD; Purkinje cells.