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New findings reveal a surprising role of the cerebellum in reward and social behaviours

on 22 January 2019
The brains little onion

Another role discovered about the brain's onion, the cerebellum, the onion-shaped structure at the lower back part of the brain. Previously its use was known for helping us to learn important motor skills, e.g. driving, a guitar, piano, or maybe darts but now there is more to add to its repertoire. . . . 

An important and interesting discovery but not one that should cause great amazement because the ventral tegmental area (VTA) is known to have projections to many important areas and regions of the brain and is the is the origin of the dopaminergic cell bodies that feed the 4 dopaminergic major dopamine pathways (mesocortical, mesolimbic, nigrostriatal and tuberoinfundibular) as well as the hypothalamospinal projection, which influences motor connections in the brain stem/spinal cord. Dopamine has long been associated with reward-like behaviours and when one considers the joy experienced when one learns to drive or makes that musical debut or that ecstatic 180, the connection makes perfect sense!  the Relative to conditions like schizophrenia, dopamine has long been thought to play a partial role. This is a consequence of hyper/hypoactivity in several brain regions, all with connections to and from the VTA. Hyperactivity of dopamine transmission in the mesolimbic pathway and hypoactivity in the prefrontal cortex are part of the revised schizophrenia hypotheses. So it makes perfect sense that there would be connections within and across many brain areas and the cerebellum (the onion shapes structure at the lower back part of the brain). The cerebellum plays a major role in motor skills, eg. driving a car, playing an instrument. The ability to make fine motor movements, threading a needle, sewing and the fine detail in art etc, is controlled, in large part, by the substantia nigra (part of the basal ganglia), pars compacta. The depletion of dopamine-producing cells here is what causes the jerky movements and stiffness in Parkinson's disease.

Ways in which hypnotherapy can help patients with schizophrenia and Parkinson's is by helping them regulate the stress response and, generally helping them becoming more relaxed. It is quite common to see a Parkinson's patient become totally relaxed and calm in both their limbs and mind and for schizophrenia patients to report less paranoia and more reality directed focus; meaning they feel more relaxed and experience less hallucinatory behaviour. The obvious caveat being, that this is in addition to their medication and not a replacement of it. Hypnotherapy is an adjunct and complementary therapy to these, and many other, conditions.

This research opens the possibility of new and innovative hypnotic interventions, that could help enhance larger motor stimulation. An example of this could be observed by the apparent effects of virtual reality devices, wherein the brain and body have a fully realistic response to a total fantasy; very similar to a dream of falling. The efficacy of hypnosis-therapy is specifically because during hypnosis we are accessing (stimulating) the very same systems and VR and dreaming. It is the structured dialogue during the process of hypnotherapy that brings about the changes that clients so often experience. It's not magic but for a client who has grappled with the fear of flying, the trauma of schizophrenia or the trembling and stiffness of Parkinson's; it feels pretty magical!

Hypnotherapy stands out as one of the most effective strategic life management methods there is, especially in its ability to promote clear thinking and good states of mental wellness. The behaviours that make life challenging are often a result of too much stress, too little sleep and too little by way of clarity! So, to get or take back control of your mind and your life, it makes perfect sense to use a methodology that addresses the subconscious mind's role in perpetuating negative, vague and ambiguous states of mind. Hypnosis helps us to create calm relaxing states of mind that make life work better! If you would like to address any concerns you have in this direction, or, if you just want to make your life feel better,  then why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation? Hypnosis gives you the ability to have a good life! 

The objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into irrational emotional experiences that may actually be happening for reasons different to that which we would imagine! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy can help you; why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here or to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here


The Research: 

A new study in rodents has shown that the brain's cerebellum -- known to play a role in motor coordination -- also helps control the brain's reward circuitry. Researchers found a direct neural connection from the cerebellum to the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain, which is an area that is long known to be involved in reward processing and encoding. These findings, published in Science, demonstrate for the first time that the brain's cerebellum plays a role in controlling reward and social preference behaviour, and sheds new light on the brain circuits critical and causal of the many social dysfunctions seen across multiple psychiatric disorders. The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health.

"This type of research is fundamental to deepening our understanding of how brain circuit activity relates to mental illnesses," said Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIMH. "Findings like the ones described in this paper help us learn more about how the brain works, a key first step on the path towards developing new treatments."

The cerebellum plays a well-recognised role in the coordination and regulation of motor activity. However, research has also suggested that this brain area contributes to a host of non-motor functions. For example, abnormalities in the cerebellum have been linked to autism, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders, and brain activation in the cerebellum has been linked to motivation, social and emotional behaviours, and reward learning, each of which can be disrupted in psychiatric disorders.

These earlier findings led Kamran Khodakhah, Ph.D., of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, and colleagues to wonder if there was a direct connection between the cerebellum and the VTA -- a brain structure involved in controlling reward and motivational behaviours. To examine this, the researchers used a technique called optogenetics, in which the neurons of animals are genetically modified, so they can be controlled using pulses of light. The researchers used this technique in mice, activating neurons in the cerebellum which connected to the VTA. The researchers found that activating the cerebellar neurons led to increased activation in the VTA of mice, indicating a working connection between these two brain structures.

Once the neural connection between these two brain structures was confirmed, the researchers investigated whether inputs from the cerebellum to the VTA influenced reward-related and social preference behaviour. The researchers placed mice in a square-shaped open chamber and used pulses of light to activate cerebellar neurons linked to the VTA whenever mice entered a specific part of the chamber, called the "reward quadrant." Mice showed a strong preference for spending time in the reward quadrant, freely choosing to spend more than 70 per cent of their time in this area. In addition, the researchers found that mice were willing to work for activation in this brain area and to spend time in conditions they would usually not prefer (light vs. darker areas) to receive this activation. Together, the findings suggest that activation of the cerebellar projections to the VTA is rewarding for mice and that the cerebellum plays a role in reward-related behaviours.

To examine whether the inputs from the cerebellum into the VTA impacted social behaviours, the researchers tested mice using a three-chamber social task in which the mice could choose to spend time in a chamber with another mouse (the social chamber), in an empty central chamber, or in a chamber containing a non-social object. At baseline, mice preferred to be in the social chamber, but after researchers inactivated the cerebellar projections into the VTA, the mice no longer showed this preference. In addition, continuous silencing of the cerebellar-VTA pathway was found to completely prevent the expression of social preference behaviour in the mice, findings which indicate that inputs from the cerebellum into the VTA are necessary for social preference behaviour in mice.

The results of this study suggest a potentially major -- and previously unrecognised -- role for the cerebellum in the creation and control of reward and social preference behaviours. Although there is much left to explore, the identification of this direct neural pathway may help explain the role of this circuit in disorders that involve reward-related and social-processing systems, such as addiction, autism, and schizophrenia, and may point to future targets for intervention and symptom management.

"The role of cerebellar circuitry in mental-health relevant behaviours is an understudied area, one in which we have just begun to see increased interest, said Janine Simmons, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the NIMH Social and Affective Neuroscience Program. "We are always excited to see innovation of this type in the behavioural neurosciences, and these results demonstrate how much remains to be learned."

In future studies, the researchers plan to test whether the cerebellum-VTA pathway can be manipulated, using drugs or optogenetics, to treat addiction and prevent relapse after treatment.

"Cerebellar abnormalities are also linked to a number of other mental disorders such as schizophrenia," said Dr Khodakhah. "We want to find out whether this pathway also plays a role in those disorders."


Story Source:

Materials provided by NIH/National Institute of Mental HealthNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Carta, I., Chen, C. H., Schott, A., Dorizan, S., & Khodakhah, K. Cerebellar modulation of the reward circuitry and social behaviourScience, 2019 DOI: 10.1126/science.aav0581

Cite This Page:

NIH/National Institute of Mental Health. "New findings reveal a surprising role of the cerebellum in reward and social behaviours." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 January 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190117142151.htm>.