The cerebellum and cognition: cerebellar lesions do not impair spatial working memory or visual associative learning in monkeys.
Nixon PD., Passingham RE.
Anatomical studies in non-human primates have shown that the cerebellum has prominent connections with the dorsal, but not the ventral, visual pathways of the cerebral cortex. Recently, it has been shown that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DPFC) and cerebellum are interconnected in monkeys. This has been cited in support of the view that the cerebellum may be involved in cognitive functions, e.g. working memory. Six monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) were therefore trained on a classic test of working memory, the spatial delayed alternation (SDA) task, and also on a visual concurrent discrimination (VCD) task. Excitotoxic lesions were made in the lateral cerebellar nuclei, bilaterally, in three of the animals. When retested after surgery the lesioned animals were as quick to relearn both tasks as the remaining unoperated animals. However, when the response times (RT) for each task were directly compared, on the SDA task the monkeys with cerebellar lesions were relatively slow to decide where to respond. We argue that on the SDA task animals can prepare their responses between trials whereas this is not possible on the VCD task, and that the cerebellar lesions may disrupt this response preparation. We subsequently made bilateral lesions in the DPFC of the control animals and retested them on the SDA task. These monkeys failed to relearn the task. The results show that, unlike the dorsal prefrontal cortex, the cerebellum is not essential for working memory or the executive processes that are necessary for correct performance, though it may contribute to the preparation of responses.