A working hypothesis for the role of the cerebellum in impulsivity and compulsivity

Marta Miquel, Saleem M. Nicola, Isis Gil-Miravet, Julian Guarque-Chabrera, Aitor Sanchez-Hernandez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Growing evidence associates cerebellar abnormalities with several neuropsychiatric disorders in which compulsive symptomatology and impulsivity are part of the disease pattern. Symptomatology of autism, addiction, obsessive-compulsive (OCD), and attention deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD) disorders transcends the sphere of motor dysfunction and essentially entails integrative processes under control of prefrontal-thalamic-cerebellar loops. Patients with brain lesions affecting the cortico-striatum thalamic circuitry and the cerebellum indeed exhibit compulsive symptoms. Specifically, lesions of the posterior cerebellar vermis cause affective dysregulation and deficits in executive function. These deficits may be due to impairment of one of the main functions of the cerebellum, implementation of forward internal models of the environment. Actions that are independent of internal models may not be guided by predictive relationships or a mental representation of the goal. In this review article, we explain how this deficit might affect executive functions. Additionally, regionalized cerebellar lesions have been demonstrated to impair other brain functions such as the emergence of habits and behavioral inhibition, which are also altered in compulsive disorders. Similar to the infralimbic cortex, clinical studies and research in animal models suggest that the cerebellum is not required for learning goal-directed behaviors, but it is critical for habit formation. Despite this accumulating data, the role of the cerebellum in compulsive symptomatology and impulsivity is still a matter of discussion. Overall, findings point to a modulatory function of the cerebellum in terminating or initiating actions through regulation of the prefrontal cortices. Specifically, the cerebellum may be crucial for restraining ongoing actions when environmental conditions change by adjusting prefrontal activity in response to the new external and internal stimuli, thereby promoting flexible behavioral control. We elaborate on this explanatory framework and propose a working hypothesis for the involvement of the cerebellum in compulsive and impulsive endophenotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number99
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
StatePublished - Apr 30 2019


  • Addiction
  • Cerebellum
  • Compulsivity
  • Habits
  • Impulsivity
  • Prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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