Control of mental activities by internal models in the cerebellum

The great Masao Ito, originator of one of the classic theories of cerebellar function, has published a new theory in the recent issue of Nature Neuroscience regarding how the cerebellum may be involved in control of cognition.

The basic idea is that while the cerebellum has evolutionarily had a role of refining motor commands for the purpose of controlling the skeleton, in the human the cerebellum is capable of refining commands from frontal cortex to “control” internal representations of the outside world. Ito uses the increasingly popular language of control theory to describe the effect that the cerebellum may have on different parts of the brain.

From the abstract:

The intricate neuronal circuitry of the cerebellum is thought to encode internal models that reproduce the dynamic properties of body parts. These models are essential for controlling the movement of these body parts: they allow the brain to precisely control the movement without the need for sensory feedback. It is thought that the cerebellum might also encode internal models that reproduce the essential properties of mental representations in the cerebral cortex. This hypothesis suggests a possible mechanism by which intuition and implicit thought might function and explains some of the symptoms that are exhibited by psychiatric patients. This article examines the conceptual bases and experimental evidence for this hypothesis.

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