From the WashU Newsroom…
The cerebellum can’t get no respect. Located inconveniently on the underside of the brain and initially thought to be limited to controlling movement, the cerebellum has long been treated like an afterthought by researchers studying higher brain functions.
But researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis say overlooking the cerebellum is a mistake. Their findings, published Oct. 25 in Neuron, suggest that the cerebellum has a hand in every aspect of higher brain functions — not just movement, but attention, thinking, planning and decision-making.
“The biggest surprise to me was the discovery that 80 percent of the cerebellum is devoted to the smart stuff,” said senior author Nico Dosenbach, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology, of occupational therapy and of pediatrics. “Everyone thought the cerebellum was about movement. If your cerebellum is damaged, you can’t move smoothly — your hand jerks around when you try to reach for something. Our research strongly suggests that just as the cerebellum serves as a quality check on movement, it also checks your thoughts as well — smoothing them out, correcting them, perfecting things.”
Dosenbach is a founding member of the Midnight Scan Club, a group of Washington University neuroscientists who have taken turns in an MRI scanner late at night, scanning their own brains for hours to generate a massive amount of high-quality data for their research. A previous analysis of Midnight Scan Club data showed that a kind of brain scan called functional connectivity MRI can reliably detect fundamental differences in how individual brains are wired.