Consensus Paper: Cerebellum and Ageing

Arleo A, Bareš M, Bernard JA, Bogoian HR, Bruchhage MMK, Bryant P, Carlson ES, Chan CCH, Chen LK, Chung CP, Dotson VM, Filip P, Guell X, Habas C, Jacobs
HIL, Kakei S, Lee TMC, Leggio M, Misiura M, Mitoma H, Olivito G, Ramanoël S, Rezaee Z, Samstag CL, Schmahmann JD, Sekiyama K, Wong CHY, Yamashita M, Manto M.

2023 Jul 10. doi:10.1007/s12311-023-01577-7. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37428408.


4 Aug 2023

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Given the key roles of the cerebellum in motor, cognitive, and affective operations and given the decline of brain functions with aging, cerebellar circuitry is attracting the attention of the scientific community. The cerebellum plays a key role in timing aspects of both motor and cognitive operations, including for complex tasks such as spatial navigation. Anatomically, the cerebellum is connected with the basal ganglia via disynaptic loops, and it receives inputs from nearly every region in the cerebral cortex. The current leading hypothesis is that the cerebellum builds internal models and facilitates automatic behaviors through multiple interactions with the cerebral cortex, basal ganglia and spinal cord. The cerebellum undergoes structural and functional changes with aging, being involved in mobility frailty and related cognitive impairment as observed in the physio-cognitive decline syndrome (PCDS) affecting older, functionally-preserved adults who show slowness and/or weakness. Reductions in cerebellar volume accompany aging and are at least correlated with cognitive decline. There is a strongly negative correlation between cerebellar volume and age in cross-sectional studies, often mirrored by a reduced performance in motor tasks. Still, predictive motor timing scores remain stable over various age groups despite marked cerebellar atrophy. The cerebello-frontal network could play a significant role in processing speed and impaired cerebellar function due to aging might be compensated by increasing frontal activity to optimize processing speed in the elderly. For cognitive operations, decreased functional connectivity of the default mode network (DMN) is correlated with lower performances. Neuroimaging studies highlight that the cerebellum might be involved in the cognitive decline occurring in Alzheimer's disease (AD), independently of contributions of the cerebral cortex. Grey matter volume loss in AD is distinct from that seen in normal aging, occurring initially in cerebellar posterior lobe regions, and is associated with neuronal, synaptic and beta-amyloid neuropathology. Regarding depression, structural imaging studies have identified a relationship between depressive symptoms and cerebellar gray matter volume. In particular, major depressive disorder (MDD) and higher depressive symptom burden are associated with smaller gray matter volumes in the total cerebellum as well as the posterior cerebellum, vermis, and posterior Crus I. From the genetic/epigenetic standpoint, prominent DNA methylation changes in the cerebellum with aging are both in the form of hypo- and hyper-methylation, and the presumably increased/decreased expression of certain genes might impact on motor coordination. Training influences motor skills and lifelong practice might contribute to structural maintenance of the cerebellum in old age, reducing loss of grey matter volume and therefore contributing to the maintenance of cerebellar reserve. Non-invasive cerebellar stimulation techniques are increasingly being applied to enhance cerebellar functions related to motor, cognitive, and affective operations. They might enhance cerebellar reserve in the elderly. In conclusion, macroscopic and microscopic changes occur in the cerebellum during the lifespan, with changes in structural and functional connectivity with both the cerebral cortex and basal ganglia. With the aging of the population and the impact of aging on quality of life, the panel of experts considers that there is a huge need to clarify how the effects of aging on the cerebellar circuitry modify specific motor, cognitive, and affective operations both in normal subjects and in brain disorders such as AD or MDD, with the goal of preventing symptoms or improving the motor, cognitive, and affective symptoms.

Keywords: Affective; Aging; Alzheimer’s Disease; Cerebellum; Cognitive; Motor.

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