Evidence for Hierarchical Cognitive Control in the Human Cerebellum

Curr Biol. 2020 May 18;30(10):1881-1892.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.03.028. Epub 2020 Apr 9.

Abstract

In non-habitual situations, cognitive control aligns actions with both short- and long-term goals. The capacity for cognitive control is tightly tied to the prefrontal cortex, whose expansion in humans relative to other species is thought to support our superior cognitive control. However, the posterolateral cerebellum has also expanded greatly relative to non-human primates and has an organizational structure that mirrors the prefrontal cortex. Nevertheless, cerebellar contributions to cognitive control are poorly understood. Here, we sought to explore whether a functional hierarchical processing framework, applied to the cerebellum, could elucidate cerebellar contributions to cognitive control. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show that a gradient within the posterolateral cerebellum supports cognitive control with motor-adjacent cerebellar sub-regions supporting control of concrete, proximal actions and motor-distal, cerebellar sub-regions supporting abstract, future processing. This gradient was functionally hierarchical, with regions higher in the hierarchy influencing the relationship between regions lower in the hierarchy. This functional hierarchy provides the infrastructure by which context can inform current actions and prepare for future goals. Crucially, this mirrors the hierarchical organization of cognitive control within the prefrontal cortex. Based on these findings, we propose that the cerebellum contains within itself a parallel but separate hierarchical organization that, along with the prefrontal cortex, supports complex cognition.

Keywords: cerebellum; cognitive control; fMRI; gradients; hierarchical processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Software
  • Young Adult