The cerebellum has been traditionally considered a sensory-motor structure, but more recently has been related to other cognitive and affective functions. Previous research and meta-analytic studies suggested that it could be involved in pain processing. Our aim was to distinguish the functional networks subserved by the cerebellum during pain processing. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on 12 subjects undergoing mechanical pain stimulation and resting state acquisition. For the analysis of data, we used fuzzy c-mean to cluster cerebellar activity of each participant during nociception. The mean time courses of the clusters were used as regressors in a general linear model (GLM) analysis to explore brain functional connectivity (FC) of the cerebellar clusters. We compared our results with the resting state FC of the same cluster and explored with meta-analysis the behavior profile of the FC networks. We identified three significant clusters: cluster V, involving the culmen and quadrangular lobules (vermis IV-V, hemispheres IV-V-VI); cluster VI, involving the posterior quadrangular lobule and superior semilunar lobule (hemisphere VI, crus 1, crus 2), and cluster VII, involving the inferior semilunar lobule (VIIb, crus1, crus 2). Cluster V was more connected during pain with sensory-motor areas, cluster VI with cognitive areas, and cluster VII with emotional areas. Our results indicate that during the application of mechanical punctate stimuli, the cerebellum is not only involved in sensory functions but also with areas typically associated with cognitive and affective functions. Cerebellum seems to be involved in various aspects of nociception, reflecting the multidimensionality of pain perception.
Keywords: Cerebellum; Functional connectivity; Fuzzy clustering; Pain.