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Cerebellum found to be important in cognition and behavior

Higher cognitive functions, like language and visual processing, have long been thought to reside primarily in the brain's cerebrum. But a body of research in premature infants at Children's Hospital Boston is documenting an important role for the cerebellum previously thought to be principally involved in motor coordination and shows that cerebellar injury can have far-reaching developmental consequences.

The latest study, in the October issue of Pediatrics, also demonstrates that the cerebrum and cerebellum are tightly interconnected. Sophisticated MRI imaging of 74 preterm infants' brains revealed that when there was injury to the cerebrum, the cerebellum failed to grow to a normal size. When the cerebral injury was confined to one side, it was the opposite cerebellar hemisphere that failed to grow normally. The reverse was also true: when injury occurred in one cerebellar hemisphere, the opposite cerebral hemisphere was smaller than normal.

"There seems to be an important developmental link between the cerebrum and the cerebellum," says Catherine Limperopoulos, PhD, in Children's Department of Neurology, the study's lead author. "We're finding that the two structures modulate each other's growth and development. The way the brain forms connections between structures may be as important as the injury itself."

As neuroimaging becomes more sophisticated, cerebellar injury is increasingly recognized as a complication of premature birth. Improved survival of fragile preemies, coupled with a surge in premature births, has left more and more families to deal with the damage to their babies' brains including cerebellar damage.

In March, Limperopoulos and colleagues published a study in Pediatrics showing that the cerebellum grows rapidly late in gestation much faster than the cerebral hemispheres and that premature birth arrests this surge in development. In another study, published in Pediatrics in September, they found that the
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Contact: Aaron Patnode
aaron.patnode@childrens.harvard.edu
617-355-6420
Children's Hospital Boston
3-Oct-2005


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