Everyone makes unconscious, rapid movements throughout the day. Just think of your eyes constantly focusing on a new point as you read or the reflexive pull out when you feel a fly land on your skin. The cerebellum is responsible for making such movements fast and accurate. A new study published in Nature Neuroscience provides new insights into the function of this brain region.
Postdoc Xiaolu Wang from the group of Zhenyu Gao of Erasmus MC discovered a new connection in the brains of mice between the cerebellum and a region of the medulla oblongata called the inferior olive. Through that route, the cerebellum receives feedback within milliseconds when the movements are in progress. With that, the cerebellum can adjust and control fast movements in a optimal way. It had never occurred to other scientists that the connection was there, let alone what its function was.
The researchers came across the connection by accident. ‘We saw a measurement that didn’t match with how we thought the cerebellum works at that time. Our first thought was: we made a mistake,’ Gao said. But extensive experiments showed that they had really discovered a new connection. Peers responded enthusiastically. ‘They call it a paradigm-shifting study. It works exactly the opposite way from what textbooks tell us. We will have to revise the current theory of how the cerebellum controls fast movements,’ Gao said.
The results in mice are likely to apply to humans as well, Gao said. ‘The brain regions we are looking at are highly conserved during evolution. In fact, they have not changed much compared to fish.’ So the findings may also potentially shed new light on movement disorders caused by diseases of the cerebellum.