Ageing generally leads to impairments in cognitive function and the ability to execute and learn new movements. While the causes of these impairments are often multi-factorial, integrity of the cerebellum in an elderly population is an important predictive factor of both motor function and cognitive function. A similar association between cerebellar integrity and function is true for cerebellar patients. We set out to investigate the analogies between the pattern of cerebellar degeneration of a healthy ageing population and cerebellar patients. We quantified cerebellar regional volumes by applying voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to a publicly available dataset of MR images obtained in 313 healthy subjects aged between 18 and 96. years and a dataset of MR images of 21 cerebellar patients. We observed considerable overlap in regions with the strongest loss of cerebellar volume in the two datasets. In both datasets, the anterior lobe of the cerebellum (lobules I-V) and parts of the superior cerebellum (primarily lobule VI) showed the strongest degeneration of cerebellar volume. However, the most significant voxels in cerebellar patients were shifted posteriorly (lobule VII) compared to the voxels that degenerate most with age in the healthy population. The results showed a pattern of significant degeneration of the posterior motor region (lobule VIIIb) in both groups, and significant degeneration of lobule IX and X in the healthy population, but not in cerebellar patients. Furthermore, we saw strong volumetric degeneration of functionally defined cerebellar regions associated with cerebral somatomotor function in both groups.Predominance of degeneration in the anterior lobe and lobule VI suggests impairment of motor function in both groups, while we suggest that the posterior shift of degeneration in cerebellar patients would be associated with relatively stronger impairment of higher motor function and cognitive function. Thus, these results may explain the specific symptomology associated with cerebellar degeneration in ageing and in cerebellar patients.

Ageing, Cerebellar degeneration, Cerebellum, Cognition, Motor control, Voxel-based morphometry,
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Hulst, T, van der Geest, J.N, Thürling, M, Goericke, S, Frens, M.A, Timmann, D, & Donchin, O. (2015). Ageing shows a pattern of cerebellar degeneration analogous, but not equal, to that in patients suffering from cerebellar degenerative disease. NeuroImage, 116, 196–206. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.03.084