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J Neurophysiol. 2004 Sep;92(3):1856-66. Epub 2004 Apr 28.

Do children with focal cerebellar lesions show deficits in shifting attention?

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  • 1Dept. of Neurosurgery, University of Duisburg-Essen, Hufelandstrasse 55, 45122 Essen, Germany.


More recent findings suggest a possible role of the cerebellum in nonmotor functions. Disability of individuals with cerebellar damage in rapidly shifting attention is one frequently used example to support cerebellar involvement in mental skills. The original proposal was based on findings in five children with chronic surgical lesions of the cerebellum and a young adult with a degenerative disorder. The aim of the present study was to repeat Akshoomoff and Courchesne's initial findings in a larger group of children with focal cerebellar lesions. Ten children with cerebellar lesions and 10 age- and sex-matched controls were tested. Neocerebellar areas were affected in all children with cerebellar damage except one based on detailed analysis of MRI scans. Subjects had to perform a focus and a shift attention task. Two visual and two auditory stimuli were presented in a pseudorandom order. An ellipse and a high-pitched tone were presented less frequently than a circle and a low-pitched tone. Rare stimuli were presented at five different time intervals. In the focus tasks, subjects had to react to the same rare stimulus of one of the two modalities. In the shift task, subjects had to switch between the two rare stimuli. Motor deficits based on reaction times were small in cerebellar children compared with controls. The ability of target detection did not significantly differ in the children with cerebellar lesions compared with the control children in both the focus and the shift attention task. In particular, children with cerebellar damage showed no significant impairment in rapid (<2 s) shifts of attention. The present findings indicate that the cerebellum may be less critical in attention related processes than suggested previously.

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