The cerebellum contains the largest number of neurons and synapses of any structure in the central nervous system. The concept that the cerebellum is solely involved in fine motor function has become outdated; substantial evidence has accumulated linking the cerebellum with higher cognitive functions including language. Cerebellar deficits have been implicated in autism for more than two decades. The computational power of the cerebellum is essential for many, if not most of the processes that are perturbed in autism including language and communication, social interactions, stereotyped behavior, motor activity and motor coordination, and higher cognitive functions. The link between autism and cerebellar dysfunction should not be surprising to those who study its cellular, physiological, and functional properties. Postmortem studies have revealed neuropathological abnormalities in cerebellar cellular architecture while studies on mouse lines with cell loss or mutations in single genes restricted to cerebellar Purkinje cells have also strongly implicated this brain structure in contributing to the autistic phenotype. This connection has been further substantiated by studies investigating brain damage in humans restricted to the cerebellum. In this review, we summarize advances in research on idiopathic autism and three genetic forms of autism that highlight the key roles that the cerebellum plays in this spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders.
Keywords: Purkinje cell; apraxia of speech; cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome; cerebellar vermis; deep cerebellar nuclei; fragile X syndrome; inferior olivary complex; tuberous sclerosis.