Cerebellar Plasticity


The remarkable recuperative capability of the cerebellum to compensate for lesion‐induced functional deficits has long been known. A well‐studied example is the vestibular compensation that follows unilateral labyrinthectomy, involving the cerebellar flocculus. More recently, however, the implications of cerebellar plasticity have expanded to include changes induced experience‐dependently. Various forms of motor adaptation and motor learning in physiological ranges are included in this term. For example, the vestibuloocular reflex exhibits a marked cerebellum‐mediated adaptability to a change imposed on the visual–vestibular relationship. Many other reflexes and voluntary movements exhibit similar plasticity via respective areas of the cerebellum. Moreover, certain morphological changes have been noted to occur under behavioural and social impositions as evidence of a role of cerebellar plasticity at such a high level of control. These various forms of cerebellar plasticity appear to be triggered by performance errors, which provoke synaptic plasticity in neuronal circuits of the cerebellum.

Key Concepts:

  • In general terms, plasticity implies the capability of the nervous system to change its structure and function to adapt to new bodily and environmental conditions.

  • The history of research on the cerebellum contains rich cases of compensatory recovery that occurred after lesioning the cerebellum or other tissues of the brain and body, which represent cerebellar plasticity in the original sense.

  • The notion of cerebellar plasticity has now been expanded to include physiological changes occurring in cerebellar neurons under certain functional and environmental impositions, broadly embracing various forms of motor adaptation and motor learning.

  • The various forms of cerebellar plasticity appear to be commonly underlain by unique error‐learning mechanisms of cerebellar neuronal circuits based on plasticity at individual synapses (synaptic plasticity).

Keywords: adaptation; cerebellum; compensation; experience; motor learning; plasticity; skill; social; vestibular; VOR

Figure 1.

Block diagram of an adaptive control system. Broken line squares enclose the basic control system structure (in blue), the microcomplex (in red) and the adaptive controller (in green). f, overall input–output relationship of the adaptive controller; G, that of the controlled object. If f=1/G, the response output equals to the instruction. Adapted from Figure 7c of Ito M (2011) The Cerebellum: Brain for an Implicit Self. New York: Prentice Hall. Copyright Pearson.

Figure 2.

Neural wiring diagram of the VOR fitted to the structure of an adaptive control system. Abbreviations (additional to Figure ): AOT, accessory optic tract; CF, climbing fibre; eVN, excitatory vestibular nuclear neuron; IO, inferior olive; iVN, inhibitory vestibular nuclear neuron; LR, lateral rectus muscle; MF, mossy fibre; MR, medial rectus muscle; PF, parallel fibre; sVN, secondary vestibulocerebellar neuron; rc, postulated recurrent collateral; VO, vestibular organ involving the labyrinth. Adapted from Figure 28 of Ito M (2011) The Cerebellum: Brain for an Implicit Self. New York: Prentice Hall. Copyright Pearson.

Figure 3.

Microcomplex. Simplified diagram of a microcomplex showing three types of inputs and one type of output. VN/CN, vestibular or cerebellar nuclear neuron; PR, pre‐cerebellar neuron; RNp, parvocellular red nucleus. For other abbreviations, see Figure and Figure . Adapted from Figure 26 of Ito M (2011) The Cerebellum: Brain for an Implicit Self. New York: Prentice Hall. Copyright Pearson.

Figure 4.

Model‐based control. (a) External feedback from the controlled object (G) is replaced by the internal feedback via the forward model (G′). If G′=G, the controller g can perform perfectly even without external feedback. (b) Feedback control by g is replaced by the feedforward control via an inverse model (G′). If G′=1/G, the system can perform perfectly even without the operation of g. Adapted from Figure 8 of Ito M (2011) The Cerebellum: Brain for an Implicit Self. New York: Prentice Hall. Copyright Pearson.



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Ito, Masao(Apr 2012) Cerebellar Plasticity. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000033.pub2]