Neurodegeneration of the cerebellum progresses over years and primarily affects cerebellar cortex. It leads to a progressive loss of control and coordination of gait, posture, speech, fine motor, and oculomotor function. Yet, little is known how the cerebro-cerebellar network compensates for the loss in cerebellar cortical neurons. To address this knowledge gap, we examined 30 people with cerebellar cortical degeneration and a group of 30 healthy controls. We assessed visuomotor performance during a forearm-pointing task to 10, 25, and 50 targets. In addition, using MRI imaging, we determined neurodegenerative-induced changes in gray matter volume (GMV) in the cerebro-cerebellar network and correlated them to markers of motor performance. The main results are as follows: first, the relative joint position error (RJPE) during pointing was significantly greater in the ataxia group for all targets confirming the expected motor control deficit. Second, in the ataxia group, GMV was significantly reduced in cerebellar cortex but increased in the deep cerebellar nuclei. Motor error (RJPE) correlated negatively with decreased cerebellar GMV but positively with increased GMV in supplementary motor area (SMA) and premotor cortex. GMV of the deep cerebellar nuclei did not correlate significantly with markers of motor performance. We discuss whether the GMV changes in the cerebellar output nuclei and the extracerebellar efferent targets in secondary motor cortex can be understood as a central compensatory response to the neurodegeneration of the cerebellar cortex. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Neurodegeneration of the cerebellum progresses over years and primarily affects cerebellar cortex. It leads to a progressive loss of control and coordination of movement. We here show that the neurodegenerative process not only leads to cells loss in cerebellar cortex but also induces neurostructural changes in the form of increased gray matter in the efferent targets of the cerebellar cortex, namely, the cerebellar output nuclei, the SMA, and premotor cortex.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG TI 239/14-1) and a grant from the Bernd Fink-Foundation awarded to D. Timmann and J. Konczak.
Copyright © 2021 the American Physiological Society
- Motor control
PubMed: MeSH publication types
- Journal Article
- Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't