The cerebellum, or our little brain, is primarily responsible for our motor skills. In addition, structure is important for behavior and cognition. The cerebellum is a part of your brain located at the back of your head, just above and behind where your spinal cord connects to your brain itself. Although this part only makes up 10 percent of our brain’s volume, the cerebellum contains more brain cells than the rest of our brain, making it an important area for us to properly map.
The cerebellum is highly folded in humans compared to other mammals. This makes it a difficult structure to fully visualize and therefore study due to the densified layers. To really image it properly, you need high-resolution imaging. Using current imaging techniques, only a small portion of the cerebellar anatomy could be visualized, ignoring the remaining details. The ingenious structure is therefore still largely undiscovered. Until now.
Researchers at the Spinoza Center have developed a method to look at the cerebellum using a powerful 7 Tesla MRI scanner. By correcting movements, for example while the subjects were breathing, the team was able to achieve a resolution of 1/5 millimeter. Additionally, researchers can use this data to reconstruct and digitally inflate the cerebellum, clearly showing the patterns and layers. The cerebellum can also be viewed “live” while performing various tasks.
Researcher Nikos Priovoulos: “We can do this specifically because we have a very high field magnet (which is expensive and difficult to build) and also motion correction because people tend to move during scans. We can now consider the cognitive role of the cerebellum and the clinical aspects related to the cerebellum. We hope that this technique will allow us to study neurodegenerative diseases in more detail. This is the first time we can look directly at the human cerebellum in such detail.”
“The cerebellum plays an important role in multiple sclerosis (MS). MS patients have motor lesions, meaning they have damage to the nerve cells involved in movement. From ex vivo studies, experiments outside the body, we already know that MS causes these cells to degenerate. We are currently scanning MS patients and hope to look at other clinical groups as well. Based on previous knowledge, specifically for MS, we know that we could benefit from high-resolution imaging of the cerebellum. We don’t know what the exact impact will be in the longer term. Hopefully it has some predictive value for these patients.’ (ANI)
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