This study examined a new hypothesis proposing that the lateral cerebellum is not activated by motor control per se, as widely assumed, but is engaged during the acquisition and discrimination of tactile sensory information. This proposal derives from neurobiological studies of these regions of the rat cerebellum. Magnetic resonance imaging of the lateral cerebellar output nucleus (dentate) of humans during passive and active sensory tasks confirmed four a priori implications of this hypothesis. Dentate nuclei responded to cutaneous stimuli, even when there were no accompanying overt finger movements. Finger movements not associated with tactile sensory discrimination produced no dentate activation. Sensory discrimination with the fingers induced an increase in dentate activation, with or without finger movements. Finally, dentate activity was greatest when there was the most opportunity to modulate the acquisition of the sensory tactile data: when the discrimination involved the active repositioning of tactile sensory surface of the fingers. Furthermore, activity in cerebellar cortex was strongly correlated with observed dentate activity. This distinct four-way pattern of effects strongly challenges other cerebellar theories. However, contrary to appearances, neither our hypothesis nor findings conflict with behavioral effects of cerebellar damage, neurophysiological data on animals performing motor tasks, or cerebellar contribution to nonmotor, perceptual, and cognitive tasks.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience