Cerebellum: Anatomy and Organisation


The cerebellum is a highly stereotyped cortical structure in the hindbrain of all vertebrates from fish to primates. The circuitry of the cerebellar cortex is built around the large, inhibitory Purkinje cells, which are the focus of all afferent input to the cerebellar cortex and are modulated by several classes of inhibitory interneuron (principally basket, stellate, and Golgi cells). Despite the apparent homogeneity of the cerebellar circuitry, the cerebellum is highly modular, comprising several hundred discrete and reproducible anatomical and physiological units (‘stripes’). Each stripe receives precise afferent inputs – climbing fibres directly to the Purkinje cells and mossy fibres indirectly via the granule cells. In turn, the Purkinje cells send efferent projections to specific targets in the cerebellar and vestibular nuclei. As a result, within the cerebellum a wide variety of sensory information is brought together and integrated, primarily to aid in motor control but also serving multiple other functions.

Key Concepts

  • Cerebellar circuitry is built around the Purkinje cell.
  • The cerebellar cortex is divided into an array of transverse zones and parasagittal stripes.
  • The cerebellar cortex receives two major afferent inputs – climbing fibres and mossy fibres.
  • Purkinje cells are the sole efferent projections of the cerebellar cortex.
  • Multiple interneurons modulate Purkinje cell firing patterns.

Keywords: Purkinje cell; granule cell; climbing fibre; mossy fibre; zones and stripes; motor control

Figure 1. The major gross anatomical features of the cerebellar cortex in the mouse. (a) The cerebellum, seen here in a dorsal view, is divided longitudinally into a medial vermis (V), more lateral hemispheres (H) and most lateral flocculi (F). Running at right angles to the boundary between the vermis and hemispheres are the folds that divide the cerebellar cortex into lobules. Visible lobules are numbered from IV to IX. (b) Cerebellar lobulation is most easily seen in a sagittal section – the vertical line in (a). Anterior is to the right and dorsal is upwards. Lobules I–V constitute the traditional anterior lobe, VI–IX the posterior lobe and X the flocculonodular lobe. (c) The underlying parasagittal organisation of the cerebellar cortex can be seen by the distribution of numerous molecules. Shown here is a transverse section through the cerebellum – the horizontal line in (a) – stained with immunoperoxidase to reveal the distribution of a typical compartmentation marker, zebrin II/aldolase C. Only certain subsets of Purkinje cells express zebrin II and these are arranged in parasagittal stripes. (d) The distribution of zebrin II‐immunoreactive Purkinje cells has been reconstructed (seen from the anterior) to demonstrate the parasagittal organisation of the cerebellar cortex.
Figure 2. The laminar structure of the cerebellar cortex is seen in a sagittal section through the mouse cerebellum immunoperoxidase stained for zebrin II, a marker of Purkinje cells. The Purkinje cell somata form a monolayer in the Purkinje cell layer (pcl) and their dendrites are seen extending throughout the molecular layer (ml). Purkinje cell axons run through the granular layer (gl) and into the white matter axon tracts (wm).
Figure 3. The microcircuits of the cerebellum. (a) The cerebellum receives two primary afferent inputs. The inferior olivary complex (IOC) sends climbing fibres (cf) through the white matter (WM) to form excitatory (+) synapses on the smooth portions of the Purkinje cell dendrites (PC) in the molecular layer (ML). Several regions send mossy fibre (mf) projections to the cerebellar cortex. The main sources are the spinocerebellar tract (SCT), the pontocerebellar tract (PCT), the reticulocerebellar tract (RCT) and the vestibulocerebellar tract (VCT). Mossy fibres terminate in the granular layer (GL) in synaptic glomeruli (sg). In the glomeruli, they form excitatory synapses with the granule cell dendrites (gc). The granule cells send an ascending axon that bifurcates in the molecular layer to form parallel fibres (pf). All portions of the axon form excitatory synapses on Purkinje cell dendritic spines. The Purkinje cells send an inhibitory projection (−) to the cerebellar and vestibular nuclei (CN), which modulates the pattern of excitation. (b) The basic cerebellar circuit is modulated by three main inhibitory interneurons. Basket cell somata are located in the molecular layer close to the Purkinje cell layer; stellate cells have their somata more superficially; and Golgi cells have their somata in the granular layer. All three interneurons are excited by parallel fibre input. The stellate cells then inhibit the Purkinje cell dendrites, the basket cells inhibit the Purkinje cells at their somata and the Golgi cells feed back to the synaptic glomeruli and thus terminate mossy fibre volleys.


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Further Reading

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Marzban H (2017) Development of the Cerebellum from Molecular Aspects to Diseases, p 505. Springer International: Switzerland AG.

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Hawkes, Richard(Sep 2019) Cerebellum: Anatomy and Organisation. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000034.pub4]