Cerebellar contribution to higher and lower order rule learning and cognitive flexibility in mice.

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Neuroscience 2017 Mar 14; 345:99-109






Cognitive flexibility has traditionally been considered a frontal lobe function. However, converging evidence suggests involvement of a larger brain circuit which includes the cerebellum. Reciprocal pathways connecting the cerebellum to the prefrontal cortex provide a biological substrate through which the cerebellum may modulate higher cognitive functions, and it has been observed that cognitive inflexibility and cerebellar pathology co-occur in psychiatric disorders (e.g., autism, schizophrenia, addiction). However, the degree to which the cerebellum contributes to distinct forms of cognitive flexibility and rule learning is unknown. We tested lurcher↔wildtype aggregation chimeras which lose 0-100% of cerebellar Purkinje cells during development on a touchscreen-mediated attentional set-shifting task to assess the contribution of the cerebellum to higher and lower order rule learning and cognitive flexibility. Purkinje cells, the sole output of the cerebellar cortex, ranged from 0 to 108,390 in tested mice. Reversal learning and extradimensional set-shifting were impaired in mice with⩾95% Purkinje cell loss. Cognitive deficits were unrelated to motor deficits in ataxic mice. Acquisition of a simple visual discrimination and an attentional-set were unrelated to Purkinje cells. A positive relationship was observed between Purkinje cells and errors when exemplars from a novel, non-relevant dimension were introduced. Collectively, these data suggest that the cerebellum contributes to higher order cognitive flexibility, lower order cognitive flexibility, and attention to novel stimuli, but not the acquisition of higher and lower order rules. These data indicate that the cerebellar pathology observed in psychiatric disorders may underlie deficits involving cognitive flexibility and attention to novel stimuli. Neuroscience 2017 Mar 14; 345:99-109.