It is known that certain areas of the brain are responsible for certain functions of the body. The cerebellum, a structure found in the back of the skull, is known to be important for the control of movement, while the frontal cortex is responsible for cognitive functions such as short-term memory and decision making. However, as researchers continue to unlock the mystery of how billions of neurons in the brain interact, it is becoming more apparent that it is not that black and white.
Dr. Nuo Li, assistant professor of neuroscience and a McNair Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine, and his colleagues have found the first direct evidence that the cerebellum does more than just control muscle activity. It also plays a role in cognitive functions.
"We knew that the frontal cortex and the cerebellum are anatomically connected with each other," Li said. "We also knew that in humans, cerebellar damage has been known to cause memory or planning problems, so the two might be connected."
Li and his colleagues examined activity in the cerebellum during time periods when animals are not moving, but instead are thinking. To do this, the researchers trained mice in a task that required them to make decisions based on short-term memory. Mice were shown a single object in a specific location. After a delay, the animal had to remember where the object was and indicate its location by licking in a left or right direction. The delay represented a moment when the mice had to use short-term memory to recall where the object was before acting out the correct movement.