Scientists have long known that the cerebellum, that smaller chunk of brain sitting at the back of the skull under the “all-knowing” cortex played a central role in coordinating movement. Ballerinas, musicians, and sports stars among others have spent countless hours of their lives to hone their cerebellar coordination to become experts of motion. Apparently however, our cortexes are not as smart as we though. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine In St. Louis, using functional connectivity MRI scans, mapped out the cerebellum’s functions and found some surprises. In reality, only 20 percent of the cerebellum maps out to motion coordination. The other 80 percent “coordinates” your thinking.
Before explaining the findings of this study, let’s pause to hear about the study design, a “normally” boring section of any article. In this case, there is some humor behind the design. The profound discovery arose from something called the Midnight Scan Club. Answering the age-old question, “what do neuroscientists do for fun late at night?”, they apparently lie in MRI scanners watching each other’s brains. Ten neuroscientists took turns scanning each other’s brains for hours at a time late at night to accumulate the data for this study. I just wonder what the nighttime cleaning crew thought was going on behind the closed doors of the neuro-lab?
Previous research had drawn wiring maps that interconnected various areas of the cortex, the outer/upper crumpled area of our brain credited with sensation and motor function along with thinking. Prior researchers traced neuron wiring to connect vision, attention, language and movement across various brain regions. The cerebellum had remained elusive due to the difficulty of getting good MRI pictures of the lower portion of the brain. This study may turn out to be a landmark study as researchers used up to 10 hours worth of MRI scans for each of 10 subjects to map out how the cerebellum was interconnected.
Besides uncovering the surprising fact that 80 percent of the cerebellum is made up of what was considered higher cortical functions, their timing of brain wave activity appears to indicate that the cerebellum acts as the final step in coordinating thought processes. Consistently, brain wave patterns in the cortex were followed shortly (milliseconds) by similar activity in the cerebellum. The cerebellum seems to be the final quality inspector of thoughts before implementation. Maybe that is why the smaller cerebellum as four times as many neurons as the cortex.
The researchers next step in studying the cerebellum turns to evaluating how differences in one person’s cerebellum from another person’s contributes to difference in intelligence, behavior, and personality. My next step in using this research work for my own patient care? I have briefly looked at cerebellum training courses for children with autism or learning disabilities, but only have so much time in a day to read everything. I probably need to re-evaluate and consider implementing more cerebellar training in these children. The research that I remember reading did seem to indicate that training the cerebellum for motor skills carried over benefits into the cognitive skills for these children.
I look forward to seeing more from this line of research so that we at Sanctuary can help more children lead healthier more abundant lives despite different developmental disorders.
Scott Marek, Joshua S. Siegel, Evan M. Gordon, Ryan V. Raut, Caterina Gratton, Dillan J. Newbold, Mario Ortega, Timothy O. Laumann, Babatunde Adeyemo, Derek B. Miller, Annie Zheng, Katherine C. Lopez, Jeffrey J. Berg, Rebecca S. Coalson, Annie L. Nguyen, Donna Dierker, Andrew N. Van, Catherine R. Hoyt, Kathleen B. McDermott, Scott A. Norris, Joshua S. Shimony, Abraham Z. Snyder, Steven M. Nelson, Deanna M. Barch, Bradley L. Schlaggar, Marcus E. Raichle, Steven E. Petersen, Deanna J. Greene, Nico U.F. Dosenbach. Spatial and Temporal Organization of the Individual Human Cerebellum. Neuron, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.10.010
And thanks to Science Daily for drawing my attention to this research