There is broad agreement that the cerebellum does more than just coordinate movement, with clear indications that it participates in a number of cognitive functions, and that its dysfunction may contribute to mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, and addiction. Yet, compared to studies aimed at understanding the contribution of the cerebellum to motor coordination, there is little research focused on elucidating the non-motor functions of the cerebellum, and our understanding of its cognitive functions is rudimentary at best. The literature provides compelling evidence consistent with the idea that the cerebellum contributes to addiction and drug-seeking behavior both in experimental animals and in humans. However, the nature of this contribution has remained, by and large, unexplored. Our pilot data reveal a potential substrate for this effect: a previously little-appreciated direct projection from the cerebellum to the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Because the VTA is the seat of the mesolimbic dopamine projection that is critically important in addiction and reward, we propose the overarching hypothesis that the direct cerebellum to VTA projection (Cb?VTA) is a critical element of the neural circuitry underlying drug- seeking and natural reward-seeking behavior, as well as drug and natural reinforcement. A primary aim of the current proposal is to delineate, using state-of-the-art anatomical and physiological approaches, the pathways by which the cerebellum can affect the activity of neurons in the VTA, and also those in the prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens (two additional brain regions which are target of the VTA projections and are intimately associated with addictive behavior). To complement and expand upon the anatomical and physiological studies, an additional goal is to directly examine the potential utility of cerebellar projections to the VTA in acquisition and expression of addictive behavior using behavioral experiments during which the relevant cerebellar pathways are optogenetically or chemogenetically manipulated. Successful completion of the proposed aims would not only advance our understanding of the non- motor functions of the cerebellum, but has the potential to substantiate a number of mechanistic hypotheses on acquisition and extinction of addictive behaviors. Such knowledge, while fundamental basic science in nature, in the future may contribute to new insights for treatment of drug abusers and prevention of relapse after treatment.
Compared to the role of the cerebellum in motor coordination, little is understood regarding its nonmotor, cognitive functions. There is good evidence to suggest that the cerebellum contributes to addictive behavior. The purpose of this proposal is to explore the brain pathways by which the cerebellum might contribute to processing of reward, and to addictive behavior.