The cerebellum and cognition

Neurosci Lett. 2019 Jan 1:688:62-75. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2018.07.005. Epub 2018 Jul 8.


What the cerebellum does to sensorimotor and vestibular control, it also does to cognition, emotion, and autonomic function. This hypothesis is based on the theories of dysmetria of thought and the universal cerebellar transform, which hold that the cerebellum maintains behavior around a homeostatic baseline, automatically, without conscious awareness, informed by implicit learning, and performed according to context. Functional topography within the cerebellum facilitates the modulation of distributed networks subserving multiple different functions. The sensorimotor cerebellum is represented in the anterior lobe with a second representation in lobule VIII, and lesions of these areas lead to the cerebellar motor syndrome of ataxia, dysmetria, dysarthria and impaired oculomotor control. The cognitive / limbic cerebellum is in the cerebellar posterior lobe, with current evidence pointing to three separate topographic representations, the nature of which remain to be determined. Posterior lobe lesions result in the cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome (CCAS), the hallmark features of which include deficits in executive function, visual spatial processing, linguistic skills and regulation of affect. The affective dyscontrol manifests in autism spectrum and psychosis spectrum disorders, and disorders of emotional control, attentional control, and social skill set. This report presents an overview of the rapidly growing field of the clinical cognitive neuroscience of the cerebellum. It commences with a brief historical background, then discusses tract tracing experiments in animal models and functional imaging observations in humans that subserve the cerebellar contribution to neurological function. Structure function correlation studies following focal cerebellar lesions in adults and children permit a finer appreciation of the functional topography and nature of the cerebellar motor syndrome, cerebellar vestibular syndrome, and the third cornerstone of clinical ataxiology - the cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome. The ability to detect the CCAS in real time in clinical neurology with a brief and validated scale should make it possible to develop a deeper understanding of the clinical consequences of cerebellar lesions in a wide range of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders with a link to the cerebellum.

Keywords: Ataxia; Cerebellar cognitive affective/Schmahmann syndrome; Cerebrocerebellar connections; Distributed neural networks; Dysmetria of thought; Functional topography; Mutism; Neuropsychiatry; Social cognition; Universal cerebellar transform.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebellar Diseases / pathology
  • Cerebellar Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Cerebellum / pathology
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Cerebellum / physiopathology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology