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Scientists discover new function of cerebellum in human brain

The cerebellum (marked in red) communicates with varied areas of the cerebrum (green) to increase the storage of emotional information (Pic. Courtesy sciencealert.com)

Human body continues to baffle as researchers come to know more about it. That is what happened to scientists as per a report in sciencealert.com when they found that the cerebellum located at the back of the brain plays a vital part in recalling emotional experiences – both positive and negative.

This part of the brain is associated with managing movements of the body and so this finding was startling. Remembering these experiences is necessary for the species to survive and manage when in danger as also when prospering.

The regions of the brain considered to be overseeing the management of emotional memories are amygdala and hippocampus. Yet the scientists wanted to know if the cerebellum — connected with fear conditioning — too is linked with the storage of emotional memories.

In their paper, the researchers mentioned: “The aim of the present study was to investigate whether the cerebellum and cerebellar–cerebral connections are involved in the phenomenon of superior episodic memory for emotionally arousing visual information.”

For this purpose, brain scans of 1,418 individuals were done by using functional resonance imaging as they looked at emotional images including the positive, negative and neutral ones and it was found that cerebellum was involved.

In the research it was observed that the participants recalled positive and negative images much better than the neutral ones. This increased capacity of storing such images was found to be associated with cerebellum when it was more active.

The scientists also noticed that the level of communication between the cerebrum – the largest part of the brain – and cerebellum was at a higher level.

It was found that information was being received by the cerebellum from a region in the brain that is key to recognising and assessing feelings, the anterior cingulate cortex. At the same time the cerebellum was also passing information to the hippocampus and the amygdala.

Talking about these observations, Dominique de Quervain, neuroscientist from Switzerland’s University of Basel said: “These results indicate that the cerebellum is an integral component of a network that is responsible for the improved storage of emotional information.”

The findings of this research could prove useful in repairing neural circuitry when something goes wrong with it like when memories aren’t stored properly and correctly, or when they are imprinted all too clearly in our minds.

Further, the study could benefit in tackling mental health issues like when fearful and painful experiences are easily brought to mind.

Elaborating on this aspect, the scientists wrote: “These findings expand knowledge on the role of the cerebellum in complex cognitive and emotional processes and may be relevant for the understanding of psychiatric disorders with aberrant emotional circuitry, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or autism spectrum disorder.”

Details of the study were published in PNAS.

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