The cerebellum is a vital structure within the brain but what exactly is the cerebellum, where is it located and what is it responsible for? Read on to find out more.
The word cerebellum is Latin for “little brain”. The cerebellum is located below the hemispheres of the brain and behind the brain stem. It is about the size of a plum. Even though it is only one tenth the size of the entire brain, it contains half of the neurons in the brain. This is because of its large number of tiny granule cells. The cerebellum is divided into two hemispheres and ten lobes.
Motor control is an important part of the role of the cerebellum. It coordinates this through neural pathways that link the cerebellum with the cerebral motor cortex (which sends information to the muscles that cause them to move) and the spinocerebellar tract (which provides proprioceptive feedback of the position if the body in space – see below for what proprioception is).
The cerebellum is responsible for a number of functions, including motor skills such as balance, coordination and posture, as well as eye movement. It processes muscle movements and what is actually happening. If a muscle is about to move in the wrong way, the cerebellum will send its own signals to the muscle to ensure that it moves correctly. In this way, the cerebellum keeps the body moving in a smooth and coordinated way.
The cerebellum is associated with proprioception. Proprioception is the sense that provides us with an intuitive map of our body parts. For example, if we did not have proprioception, we would not know how to walk in the dark as we would not have sense of where our legs are.
As well as motor control functions, research has shown that the cerebellum also has a role in cognitive functions such as attention, and the processing of language, music, and other sensory temporal stimuli.