What is the Cerebellum?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The cerebellum, Latin for "little brain", is a plum-sized portion of the brain located below the cerebral hemispheres and behind the brain stem. It's main claim to fame is that it contains half the neurons of the brain despite being only 10% of its size. This is because its main constituents are tiny granule cells.

The cerebellum lies behind the brain stem at the base of the brain.
The cerebellum lies behind the brain stem at the base of the brain.

The primary function of the cerebellum is to provide feedback and fine-tuning for motor output. It is also associated with the sense of proprioception, which provides us with an intuitive map of the location of our body parts. Without proprioception, it would be impossible to remain balanced while walking in the dark — we wouldn't have an intuitive sense of where our legs were located. Like many other parts of the brain, the cerebellum was originally associated with a single function, but with the advent of Positron Emission Tomography (PET), fMRI, and other neural imaging techniques, it has been discovered that it is activated in tasks requiring the delegation of attention and the processing of language, music, and other sensory temporal stimuli.

Individuals who have suffered damage to the cerebellum may experience loss of motor control necessary to perform ordinary tasks, such as teeth brushing.
Individuals who have suffered damage to the cerebellum may experience loss of motor control necessary to perform ordinary tasks, such as teeth brushing.

The cerebellum is cytoarchitecturally uniform, like many other parts of the brain. This means that its cells are organized in a very regular pattern, a 3-dimensional network of neural circuits crossing each other perpendicularly. This makes it particularly amenable to staining and study under a microscope. It is therefore appealing for use in instructional laboratory work at universities.

Similar to its larger cousin the cerebrum, the cerebellum is divided into two hemispheres and 10 lobes, all of which have been studied extensively. The cerebrum is one of the phylogenetically oldest portions of the brain. It is very similar across all vertebrates, including fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals. This is strongly suggestive that it performs functions universal to all these species.

Oddly enough, people with damaged cerebellums are capable of leading relatively normal lives. Symptoms of damage to this area include poor motor control, an awkward gait, the overestimation or underestimation of force, and the inability to engage in rapidly alternating movements. Because of the relative simplicity of the cerebellum, attempts at cerebellar modelling are popular among the creators of neural networks and computational neuroscientists.

Functional MRI scans are frequently used to investigate issues in the cerebellum.
Functional MRI scans are frequently used to investigate issues in the cerebellum.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Thanks wiseGEEK. This has really helped me with the research portion of my science fair project.


Check out Chiari Malformation. My son has had a decompression surgery and is improving every day. If this is your problem you must seek out a neurosurgeon that does a lot of them. Most neurosurgeons will say they can do it but it needs to be an expert in the field. Good luck to all of you and my prayers are with you.


I was born without my left side and only 20 percent on my right side was developed. I can walk just fine and do things that other people do but there are flaws. I can't play the piano or any musical instruments (coordination) If I walk backward I tend to get dazed and its like I'm going to fall. I slur words at times (not always, but does happen frequently) and if I attempt anything that requires coordination, with my hands or body, I can't process it and I can never get it. Whether it's a body wave or whatever, I can't justify the movements.

What I have is really rare and the majority end up paralyzed from birth, but for unknown reasons, my brain has re-wired itself to pick up the slack from the right cerebellum for not being there and the other 80 percent that's missing from my left side.


My husband has poor balance and coordination and the thighs of his legs hurt most of the time. He can only walk with a rollator. His head is not held up; it seems he is always looking down, and his body bends forward. His posture is not good. If he walks about 100 yards with his rollator his body leans forward and sometimes he falls. He tires very easily and sleeps a lot. Any help is appreciated.


I have a problem with walking. Some neuro physicians say my cerebellum has been damaged. I can't walk and I can't hold anything in my hands. Can anyone tell me how this can be treated?


I was in a car accident over 1 and 1/2 years ago. I have hurt my right ankle repeatedly. I have extreme vertigo if I go into a store or try to drive on freeway. I also have speech impairment that causes me to try and say everything as fast as I can so I do not forget.

I went to someone for a hearing problem, took a test and am substantially off on the right side. I was never referred to a neurologist until this week. I am very scared and sad. I was hanging pictures in my new house and got in a fight with my mom and dad because I said that they weren't hung straight.

I blurt out words in mid sentence that have nothing to do with the topic. I have obviously not had proper medical care. At this point I'm glad to just find a place to write this. Can this be fixed?


Who is the author of this post?


My 7 year old son has some cerebellum damage and has poor balance, poor motor control, some difficulty articulating, in other words general ataxia. Do you know of any therapy that is effective for kids with this?


i like this website. I'm doing a science fair project and this is helping me a lot and i just wanted to thank all you guys who make it possible.


use to be in a wheel chair now can walk, but have balance problems. because the cerebellum did't grow to its normal size. Could people who make pills for everything else make a pill for people who have balance problems?

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