Tuesday, 29 November 2011

DECEMBER 1st [Science Comedy Advent Calendar]

December 1st


One thing that’s unavoidable during the festive period is complex movements. Whether it’s pulling a cracker, assembling some infuriating contraption which was a gift for an increasingly impatient child, or battling it out with hundreds of other frenzied shop goers who have also just realised they’ve forgotten several vital items on Christmas eve, it can’t disputed that the Christmas holidays are chock full of events that require complex and precision movements and coordination.

None of which would be possible without the cerebellum, a vital part of our central nervous system. The cerebellum is always viewed as being somewhat beneath the bigger, bulkier and more ‘intellectual’ cerebrum. But this is because it is, literally. beneath it. The cerebellum is Latin for ‘little brain’, and hangs below the cerebrum. Despite having a possible link with attention and language processing, the cerebellum is mostly identified with movement; not in the generating of movement, but in the coordination and modulation of complex movements.

It could be suggested, then, that the cerebellum is like the rest of the brain, in that it prefers to mostly shut down on Christmas day. During the afternoon period of December 25th, most people report a considerable reduction in attention, language and complex movements. Could this semi-vegetative state be due to cerebellar deactivation? This is unknown, as nobody ever does research on Christmas day. And even if they did, the subjects would never bloody turn up.

The cerebellum somewhat resembles the much bigger cerebrum, but has a much finer, more regular pattern of grooves on its surface. However, this surface layer of grey matter is pretty much all the cerebellum has, proving once again that often the wrapping on something gives a misleading impression of the contents. Saying that though, the cerebellum is mostly white matter, not grey matter, much like the ideal turkey.

Cerebellar damage doesn’t cause paralysis because, as previously stated, it doesn’t generate movements, it refines/coordinates them. But cerebellar damage therefore causes disruptions to fine motor control. This can present itself in several ways, from disrupted gait and walking issues, to the loss of skilled/planned movements, to problems with judging distance or even speech deficits. All of these occur often during the festive period, particularly later in the evening of office parties or last days in work. So again, perhaps the cerebellum is a brain region that likes a break as much as we do.

So please, spare a thought for the cerebellum this holiday, for if you do maybe it’ll stay active a bit longer and help you get through it.

Plus, it looks like a large scrotum hanging from the brain. And that can’t help the self esteem of any sufficiently complex neuroanatomical region.

Twitter: @garwboy


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