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What Is the Relationship between the Brainstem and Cerebellum?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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The brainstem and cerebellum have individual roles in cognitive functions and motor control. Similar to the other parts of the brain, and the body as a whole, the brainstem and cerebellum have separate purposes. When their purposes are combined, it becomes evident just how much the brainstem and cerebellum depend on each other, and vice versa, in the overall functioning of the brain. Activity may start in one area, or it may be simultaneous.

Located at the back of the head and brain, the brainstem is a section at the top of the spinal cord. Its main responsibility is to provide sensory and motor control to the neck and face. The brainstem houses all the nerve connections that run from the brain to the rest of the body. It controls the central nervous system, cardiac functions, and respiration. Additionally, the brainstem also plays a crucial role in maintaining the sleep-wake cycle.

In contrast, the cerebellum is located at the lower brain region, stretched under both hemispheres, with a section of the brainstem sitting in front. The cerebellum also regulates motor control, which links the brainstem and cerebellum together in one way. Cognitive functions, such as language, are regulated by the cerebellum. It also plays a role in a few emotion responses. Although the brainstem has primary control over initiating movement. The cerebellum aids movements by helping to regulate timing and coordination.

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The brainstem and cerebellum may be responsible for regulating different functions, but they also work together. If damage occurs to the cerebellum, it is unlikely that paralysis would be a result because the main motor control is handled by the brainstem. Damage to the brainstem, however, can lead to paralysis but it can also cause a deficiency in other functions. In some cases, the cerebellum may compensate for small injuries or damage to the brainstem but only if major control is not hindered. On its own, the cerebellum does not have the ability to function as the brainstem does.

When the brainstem and the cerebellum function normally, they depend on each other. The brainstem plays the most influential role in the functions that both organs perform. The cerebellum acts as the structural support by aiding in the same functions as the brainstem, but not in nearly the same capacity. If there is an issue with either of the organs, it is likely that motor control will be affected.

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