Mind’s quality control center found in long-ignored brain area: Cerebellum checks and corrects thoughts, movement -- ScienceDaily
"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.
Postdoctoral researcher and first author Scott Marek, PhD, decided to apply a similar analysis to the cerebellum. In the better-known cerebral cortex -- the crumpled outer layer of the brain -- wiring maps have been drawn that connect distant areas into networks that govern vision, attention, language and movement. But nobody knew how the cerebellum is organized in individuals, partly because a quirk of MRI technology means that data obtained from the underside of the brain tend to be low quality. In the Midnight Scan Club dataset, however, Marek had access to more than 10 hours of scans on each of 10 people, enough to take a serious look at the cerebellum.
Using the cortex's networks as a template, Marek could identify the networks in the cerebellum. Notably, the sensory networks are missing -- vision, hearing and touch -- and only 20 percent of the cerebellum is devoted to movement, roughly the same amount as in the cerebral cortex. The remaining 80 percent is occupied by networks involved in higher-order cognition: the attention network; the default network, which has to do with daydreaming, recalling memories and just idly thinking; and two networks that oversee executive functions such as decision-making and planning.