Network connectivity measured with resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rsfMRI) has revealed the contribution of distinct cerebellar lobules to an array of brain wide networks sub-serving motor and cognitive processes. As distinct cerebellar lobules form relatively accessible nodes of different brain networks, this raises the possibility for site-specific modulation of network connectivity using non-invasive brain stimulation techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Continuous theta burst transcranial magnetic stimulation (cTBS) induces long-lasting inhibition of cortical areas. Although previous studies have shown that cTBS of the lateral cerebellum modulates motor cortical excitability and improves symptoms in several movement disorders, the effect on cognitive domains has not been examined. We explored the immediate effects of cTBS in a sham-controlled study on the strength of intrinsic functional connectivity between cerebellar and cortical motor and cognitive regions in 12 participants. Lateral cerebellar cTBS significantly decreased functional connectivity with frontal and parietal cognitive regions, while connectivity with motor regions remained unaltered. Sham stimulation had no effect on either motor or cognitive connectivity. These results show that inhibitory cerebellar stimulation reduces intrinsic functional connectivity between different cortical areas, in keeping with the known connectivity pattern of the cerebellum. The results highlight the plasticity of cerebello-cerebral networks and indicate for the first time that this functional connectivity can be downregulated using an inhibitory neurostimulation paradigm. This may shed light on the pathophysiology of network dysfunction and is a potential treatment for cognitive and movement disorders.
Keywords: Cerebellum; Cognition; Functional connectivity; Resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging; Transcranial magnetic stimulation.
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