Have we been ignoring the elephant in the room? Seven arguments for considering the cerebellum as part of addiction circuitry

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Jan:60:1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.11.005. Epub 2015 Nov 19.


Addiction involves alterations in multiple brain regions that are associated with functions such as memory, motivation and executive control. Indeed, it is now well accepted that addictive drugs produce long-lasting molecular and structural plasticity changes in corticostriatal-limbic loops. However, there are brain regions that might be relevant to addiction other than the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus and basal ganglia. In addition to these circuits, a growing amount of data suggests the involvement of the cerebellum in many of the brain functions affected in addicts, though this region has been overlooked, traditionally, in the addiction field. Therefore, in the present review we provide seven arguments as to why we should consider the cerebellum in drug addiction. We present and discuss compelling evidence about the effects of drugs of abuse on cerebellar plasticity, the involvement of the cerebellum in drug-induced cue-related memories, and several findings showing that the instrumental memory and executive functions also recruit the cerebellar circuitry. In addition, a hypothetical model of the cerebellum's role relative to other areas within corticostriatal-limbic networks is also provided. Our goal is not to review animal and human studies exhaustively but to support the inclusion of cerebellar alterations as a part of the physiopathology of addiction disorder.

Keywords: Addiction; Cerebellum; Learning; Neuroplasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Cerebellum / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology