A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Spring, 2019 | Number 2, Volume 33

Animal study: cerebellum influences social behavior

New research indicates that the cerebellum, known to play a role in motor coordination, also helps to control the brain’s reward and social circuitry. Abnormalities of the cerebellum are strongly linked to autism. 

Ilaria Carta and colleagues studied mice using a technique that involves modifying neurons to be activated or deactivated using light pulses. When the researchers activated neurons in the cerebellum that connect to the ventral tegmental area (VTA)—an area involved in reward processing and encoding—they found that this led to increased activation in the VTA. 

The researchers then investigated whether input from the cerebellum to the VTA influenced behavior related to rewards. Placing mice in an open chamber, they used pulses of light to activate cerebellar neurons linked to the VTA whenever the mice entered a specific part of the chamber. They found that mice showed a strong preference for remaining in this area, spending more than 70% of their time there. In addition, the researchers discovered that the mice were willing to work or to spend time in normally disliked conditions(for instance, light vs. dark areas), to activate the cerebellar-VTA pathway. 

Next, the researchers studied the effect of input from the cerebellum to the VTA on social preferences. At baseline, mice preferred to remain in a “social” chamber rather than an empty chamber or one containing only non-social objects. When the researchers inactivated the cerebellar projections into theVTA, however, the mice no longer showed this preference. Long-term inactivation of this pathway completely erased the normal social preference of the mice. 

The researchers conclude, “Our data de-lineate a major, previously unappreciated role for the cerebellum in controlling the reward circuitry and social behavior.”

The researchers say, “Our data delineate a major, previously unappreciated role for the cerebellum in controlling the reward circuitry and social behavior.”

Citations

“Cerebellar modulation of the reward circuitry and social behavior,” Ilaria Carta, Christophe rH. Chen, Amanda L. Schott, Schnaude Dorizan, and Kamran Khodakhah, Science, Vol. 363, No. 6424, January 18, 2019 (online). Address: Kamran Khodakhah, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Rose F. Kennedy Center, 1410 Pelham Parkway South, Room 903, Bronx, NY 10461,[email protected].

—and—

“New findings reveal the surprising role of the cerebellum in reward and social behaviors,” news release, National Institute of Mental Health, January 17, 2019.