Cerebellar hypoplasia: Teaching us the value of what’s not there
Jonathan Keleher has been helping raise the status of the cerebellum, a key structure near the base of your brain, by not having one. The missing tissue has confirmed some expectations about the role the cerebellum plays in our lives, but it has also highlighted some functions that were not previously appreciated.
The cerebellum’s basic job description for many years has been to assist with balance and fine motor control. The most common example to illustrate this idea is that alcohol inhibits the cerebellum, and so drunk people stagger and can’t touch their fingers to their noses with their eyes closed. But now thanks to research and cooperation with rare individuals like Keleher, we’re learning that the cerebellum is important to a wider range of activities and functions. In fact, the cerebellum seems to at least augment many of our mental abilities, from language processing to spatial reasoning.
This idea of augmentation is expressed in different forms, depending on the job. While your motor cortex gets your legs walking, the cerebellum keeps your movement balanced and smooth. Visual stimulus depends on the visual cortex, but the cerebellum seems to help us organize and process that information. And while language and communication happens elsewhere, the cerebellum seems to help with understanding and responding emotional complexities.
So where does this leave someone without a cerebellum? Keleher is still quite functional, as many tasks can still be performed, especially with practice and discipline. While he’s ruled out more demanding activities like bike riding or driving a car, he’s taught himself enough to enjoy other things like general socializing. It may not lead to deep emotional bonds, but he enjoys chatting more than just about anything else.
Source: Jon Hamilton by A Man's Incomplete Brain Reveals Cerebellum's Role In Thought And Emotion, Shots