On the specific role of the cerebellum in motor learning and cognition: Clues from PET activation and lesion studies in man

Behavioral and Brain Sciences 19 (3):411-433 (1996)
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Brindley proposed that we initially generate movements , under higher cerebral control. As the movement is practiced, the cerebellum learns to link within itself the context in which the movement is made to the lower level movement generators. Marr and Albus proposed that the linkage is established by a special input from the inferior olive, which plays upon an input-output element within the cerebellum during the period of the learning. When the linkage is complete, the occurrence of the context (represented by a certain input to the cerebellum) will trigger (through the cerebellum) the appropriate motor response. The movement is distinguished from the conscious movement by its now being automatic, rapid, and stereotyped. The idea is still controversial, but has been supported by a variety of animal studies and, as reviewed here, is consistent with the results of a number of human PET and ablation studies. I have added to the idea of context-response linkage what I think is another important variable: novel combinations of downstream elements. With regard to the motor system and the muscles, this could explain how varied combinations of muscles may become active in precise time-amplitude specifications so as to produce coordinated movements appropriate to specific contexts. In this target article, I have further extended this idea to the premotor parts of the brain and their role in cognition. These areas receive influences from the cerebellum; they are active both in planning movements that are to be executed and in thinking about movements that are not to be executed. From recent evidence, the cerebellar output extends even to what has been characterized as the ultimate frontal planning area, the cortex, area 46. The cerebellum thus may be involved in context-response linkage, and response combination even at these higher levels. The implication would be that, through practice, an experiential context would automatically evoke a certain mental action plan. The plan would be in the realm of thought, and could lead to execution. The specific cerebellar contribution would be one of the context linkage and the shaping of the response, through trial and error learning. The prefrontal and premotor areas could still plan without the help of the cerebellum, but not so automatically, rapidly, stereotypically, so precisely linked to context, or so free of error. Nor would their activities improve optimally with mental practice



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