The Cerebellum and Brain Development

Jessica Verpeut, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Princeton University

Stories_insci Stories_insci on July 19, 2018

Jessica Verpeut

In less than 200 words, what main research questions are you working on? Please make sure to first include a brief context and background to your research, articulate your question(s) and conclude with why you think it’s important to study the them (i.e., the potential broader impacts).
The development of the brain is complex and still very mysterious. Many genetic and environmental factors are responsible for proper development. Changes to this developmental trajectory may lead to disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder have a wide range of difficulties, including struggling with social situations, communication, and coping with change. One brain region that we believe is critical for this development is the cerebellum. The cerebellum may be small and tucked away behind the forebrain, but it packs some of the largest cells in the brain. Previously thought to only be important for motor movements, we now believe that the cerebellum is important for social and cognitive tasks. In this way, the cerebellum may be constantly correcting and perfecting our actions in an attempt to create the best predictions as we move about our world. This would be similar to how the cerebellum allows us to perform smooth movements with extreme precision and accuracy. Without the cerebellum, reacting to normal social cues or situations would be extremely difficult. We have recently found that specific regions of the cerebellum can alter behavior and I am now working to find the exact time period during development and the mechanism by which the cerebellum modulates these behaviors.