Cerebellum -Bigger than it seems?

Tania Ghosh

14th September, 2020



For centuries, scientists have strived to figure out the workings of the human brain, but that blob of matter tucked inside a bony shell long resisted efforts to divine its secrets.

Techniques invented in the early 1900s, including angiography and electroencephalography, made it possible to examine some characteristics of the brain without invading the skull. But it wasn’t until the 1970s, with the development of functional PET and MRI scanning, that it became possible to see the brain in action. And cerebellum had always remained a mystery to the scientists who continue to research the brain. A bit more about the cerebellum has been revealed in recent years but there was s so much more to learn in the upcoming years.



Sometimes referred to by its Latin translation as the ‘little brain', the cerebellum is located close to the brainstem and sits under the cortex in the hindbrain. It is like a thin flat sheet, crinkled into folds to make it fit into a compact volume about one-eighth the volume of the cerebral cortex. For this reason, the surface area of the cerebellum was thought to be considerably smaller than that of the cerebral cortex.

The surface area

By using an ultra-high-field MRI machine to scan the brain and custom software to process the resulting images, it was discovered that the tightly packed folds actually contain a surface area equal to 80% of the cerebral cortex's surface area. 

The process that was used

A pioneer in brain imaging who has leveraged functional MRI to uncover visual maps in the brain found that when the cerebellum is completely unfolded, it forms a strange "crepe" four inches wide by three feet long. In previous research, it has been discovered that while there were many similarities between the cortex and the cerebellum, there was one key difference. In the cerebral cortex, regions representing different parts of the body are arranged roughly like they are in the actual body: juxtaposed and orderly. But in the cerebellum, they were placed more randomly.

Those parts of the cerebellum are therefore set up to pull in and coordinate information from disparate parts of the body. It is interesting to notice that there might be cognitive parts of the cerebellum that could help support highly complex, sophisticated cognitive functions, such as language or abstract reasoning.

More functions are revealed

Until now, the cerebellum was thought to be involved mainly in basic functions like movement, but its expansion over time and its new inputs from cortical areas involved in cognition suggest that it can also process advanced concepts like mathematical equations. There is some recent evidence that people who suffer cerebellum damage have difficulty processing emotion.


“The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades," Martin Sereno, psychology professor, cognitive neuroscientist, and director of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center, said. He collaborated with imaging and cerebellum experts from the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Canada and used customized open source software that he originally developed with colleagues while at the University of California San Diego to computationally reconstruct the folded surface of the cerebellum. The software also unfolds and flattens the cerebellar cortex so as to visualize it to the level of each individual fold. This process would enable scientists to study the brain in finer details in the future.


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About the Author

Tania Ghosh, studies Biotechnology in St. Xavier's College Kolkata.