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J Neurosci. 1999 Jul 1;19(13):5632-43.

Spatial attention deficits in patients with acquired or developmental cerebellar abnormality.

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  • 1Department of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0217, USA.


Recent imaging and clinical studies have challenged the concept that the functional role of the cerebellum is exclusively in the motor domain. We present evidence of slowed covert orienting of visuospatial attention in patients with developmental cerebellar abnormality (patients with autism, a disorder in which at least 90% of all postmortem cases reported to date have Purkinje neuron loss), and in patients with cerebellar damage acquired from tumor or stroke. In spatial cuing tasks, normal control subjects across a wide age range were able to orient attention within 100 msec of an attention-directing cue. Patients with cerebellar damage showed little evidence of having oriented attention after 100 msec but did show the effects of attention orienting after 800-1200 msec. These effects were demonstrated in a task in which results were independent of the motor response. In this task, smaller cerebellar vermal lobules VI-VII (from magnetic resonance imaging) were associated with greater attention-orienting deficits. Although eye movements may also be disrupted in patients with cerebellar damage, abnormal gaze shifting cannot explain the timing and nature of the attention-orienting deficits reported here. These data may be consistent with evidence from animal models that suggest damage to the cerebellum disrupts both the spatial encoding of a location for an attentional shift and the subsequent gaze shift. These data are also consistent with a model of cerebellar function in which the cerebellum supports a broad spectrum of brain systems involved in both nonmotor and motor function.

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