Neuroimaging evidence implicating cerebellum in support of sensory/cognitive processes associated with thirst

Lawrence M. Parsons, Derek Denton, Gary Egan, Michael McKinley, Robert Shade, Jack Lancaster, Peter T. Fox

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102 Scopus citations


Recent studies implicate the cerebellum, long considered strictly a motor control structure, in cognitive, sensory, and affective phenomenon. The cerebellum, a phylogenetically ancient structure, has reciprocal ancient connections to the hypothalamus, a structure important in vegetative functions. The present study investigated whether the cerebellum was involved in vegetative functions and the primal emotions engendered by them. Using positron emission tomography, we examined the effects on the cerebellum of the rise of plasma sodium concentration and the emergence of thirst in 10 healthy adults. The correlation of regional cerebral blood flow with subjects' ratings of thirst showed major activation in the vermal central lobule. During the development of thirst, the anterior and posterior quadrangular lobule, lingula, and the vermis were activated. At maximum thirst and then during irrigation of the mouth with water to alleviate dryness, the cerebellum was less activated. However, 3 min after drinking to satiation, the anterior quadrangular lobule and posterior cerebellum were highly activated. The increased cerebellar activity was not related to motor behavior as this did not occur. Instead, responses in ancient cerebellar regions (vermis, fastigal nucleus, archicerebellum) may be more directly related to vegetative and affective aspects of thirst experiences, whereas activity in neocerebellar (posterior) regions may be related to sensory and cognitive aspects. Moreover, the cerebellum is apparently not involved in the computation of thirst per se but rather is activated during changes in thirst/satiation state when the brain is 'vigilant' and is monitoring its sensory systems. Some neocerebellar activity may also reflect an intentionality for gratification by drinking inherent in the consciousness of thirst.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2332-2336
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 29 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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