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The dentate nucleus is an integral part of the cerebellum region of the human brain, both anatomically and functionally. It is one of the four pairs of deep cerebellar nuclei that coordinate complicated brain function. Each nuclei has axons that project into the brain stem that send messages to be received by the central nervous system (CNS). The dentate nucleus is responsible, in part, for the coordination and initiation of voluntary movement in the peripheral nervous and skeletal muscle systems. Specific regions of the dentate nucleus are designated to communicate with particular CNS systems, which lead to the progression of voluntary movement and autonomous thought processes. The dentate nucleus is covered by an overlying cerebral cortex and, in some cases, the combination of this tissue and the nucleus is referred to as the cerecrocerebellum.
The dorsal side of the nucleus is the motor center. It receives signals from the afferent or incoming signals of the CNS. This area is largely controlled and sustained by specialized cells called Purkinje cells, which are located throughout the entire body. The cerebellum has the highest concentration of Purkinje cells, however, that form a pronounced layer that integrates and “powers up” cerebellum functions by sending excitatory and inhibitory signals along the Purkinje cell’s extensive and elongated dendritic axons. This connection allows the cerebellum to execute motor function in the muscles that are innervated in the skeletal muscle system. Afferent sensory input from the CNS initially activates the dorsal side of the dentate nucleus.
The cerebellum is thought to be one of the most important and fundamental parts of the human anatomy. The whole system containing the deep cerebellar nuclei funnels into a single anatomical outlet in the cerebrum. The cerebellum needs the sensory input from the dentate nucleus to communicate with any part of the body, including areas within the brain itself that compose and conceive coherent and creative thought. The ventral side of the dentate nucleus is largely responsible for higher cerebellar function. For example, cognition and complicated maneuvering of skeletal muscle movement, like playing the piano or dancing, for example, is dependent upon optimal functioning of the deep nuclei.
All input from the CNS must go through the cerebral pathway. Before afferent signals are processed and organized by the dentate nucleus, they are too “rough” to function normally. Some brain disorders, like neurofibromatosis, can affect the functioning of the cerebral pathway and the dentate nucleus. In neurofibromatosis, lesions form on the dentate nucleus causing severe skeletal and cognitive dysfunction if the disease progresses untreated. Alzheimer’s disease may have correlations with dysfunction of deep cerebellar nuclei as well.