The Cerebellum: Anatomy, Functions, and Role in Motor Control

The cerebellum, often referred to as the “little brain,” is a critical structure of the central nervous system (CNS) with a significant role in motor control. This article delves into the anatomy and functions of the cerebellum. By understanding the intricacies of this brain region, we gain insight into its vital contributions to coordination, precision, timing of movements, and motor learning.

Anatomical Location and Structure of Cerebellum

The cerebellum is situated at the posterior cranial fossa, just inferior to the occipital and temporal lobes, and is separated from them by the tentorium cerebelli, a durable layer of dura mater. It lies posterior to the pons and is separated from it by the fourth ventricle.

The cerebellum consists of two hemispheres connected by the vermis, a narrow midline area. It contains both gray matter and white matter. The gray matter forms the cerebellar cortex, located on the surface of the cerebellum and organized in tightly folded layers. Beneath the cortex lies the white matter, housing four cerebellar nuclei: the dentate, emboliform, globose, and fastigi nuclei.

Anatomy and Functions of Cerebellum
Anatomy and Functions of Cerebellum

Anatomical Divisions – Lobes, Zones, and Functional Areas

The cerebellum can be subdivided based on its anatomical lobes, zones, and functional divisions.

Anatomical Lobes

The cerebellum comprises three distinct anatomical lobes – the anterior lobe, the posterior lobe, and the flocculonodular lobe. These lobes are separated by two fissures – the primary fissure and the posterolateral fissure.

  • The anterior lobe
  • The posterior lobe
  • The flocculonodular lobe, associated with balance and spatial orientation and connected primarily with the vestibular nuclei.


The cerebellum can also be divided into three zones – the vermis in the midline, the intermediate zone on either side of the vermis, and the lateral hemispheres. Notably, there is no significant difference in the gross structure between the lateral hemispheres and the intermediate zones.

Functional Divisions of Cerebellum

The cerebellum can be further classified into three functional areas:

  • Cerebrocerebellum: Formed by the lateral hemispheres, it plays a crucial role in planning movements and motor learning. It receives inputs from the cerebral cortex and pontine nuclei and sends outputs to the thalamus and red nucleus. The cerebrocerebellum also regulates muscle activation coordination and is vital for visually guided movements.
  • Spinocerebellum: Comprising the vermis and intermediate zone, it is responsible for regulating body movements, allowing for error correction, and processing proprioceptive information.
  • Vestibulocerebellum: Functionally equivalent to the flocculonodular lobe, it controls balance and ocular reflexes, particularly fixation on a target. It receives inputs from the vestibular system and sends outputs back to the vestibular nuclei.


The cerebellum receives its blood supply from three paired arteries: the superior cerebellar artery (SCA), the anterior inferior cerebellar artery (AICA), and the posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA). The SCA and AICA are branches of the basilar artery, while the PICA is a branch of the vertebral artery. Venous drainage is through the superior and inferior cerebellar veins, which drain into the superior petrosal, transverse, and straight dural venous sinuses.

Functions of Cerebellum

The cerebellum, often referred to as the “little brain,” plays a crucial role in motor control and coordination. Its functions can be understood based on its different regions and overall processing principles.

Functions by Regions:

  1. Cortex of the Vermis: The vermis, located in the midline of the cerebellum, is responsible for coordinating movements of the trunk, including the neck, shoulders, thorax, abdomen, and hips. It plays a vital role in maintaining balance and postural adjustments.
  2. Intermediate Zone of Cerebellar Hemispheres: Adjacent to the vermis, the intermediate zone controls the distal extremity muscles, which are responsible for movements of the limbs and fingers. It contributes to fine motor control and precision.
  3. Lateral Area of Cerebellar Hemispheres: The remaining lateral area of each cerebellar hemisphere is involved in planning sequential movements of the entire body. It helps in coordinating complex motor sequences and plays a role in the conscious assessment of movement errors.
Role of Cerebellum
Role of Cerebellum

Overall Functions of Cerebellum

  1. Fine Adjustment of Motor Actions: The cerebellum is essential for making precise adjustments to motor actions. It ensures smooth and coordinated movements by timing muscle actions and coordinating multiple muscle groups.
  2. Feedforward Processing: Signal processing in the cerebellum is primarily feedforward, meaning signals move through the system from input to output with minimal internal transmission. This efficient processing contributes to real-time motor control.
  3. Modular Organization: The cerebellar system is divided into thousands of independent modules with similar structures. Each module is responsible for specific motor functions, and their coordinated activity ensures smooth movement.
  4. Plasticity: The cerebellum exhibits a degree of plasticity, allowing it to adapt and learn new motor skills. It is crucial for motor learning, enabling individuals to refine movements through practice and repetition, such as learning to ride a bicycle or play a musical instrument.
  5. Maintaining Balance and Coordination: The cerebellum has specialized sensors that detect shifts in balance and movement. It sends signals to adjust body positioning and maintain balance.
  6. Eye Movement Coordination: The cerebellum also coordinates eye movements, ensuring smooth and coordinated visual tracking.
  7. Motor Learning and Skill Acquisition: The cerebellum plays a significant role in learning complex movements that require practice and fine-tuning. It aids in acquiring new motor skills and refining existing ones.
  8. Other Potential Functions: The primary role is in motor control, emerging research suggests that the cerebellum may have additional roles in processing language, emotions, and decision-making. However, these functions require further exploration.

Frequently Asked Questions on Cerebellum

What is the cerebellum, and what is its main function? 

The cerebellum is a critical structure of the central nervous system responsible for motor control and coordination.

How is the cerebellum anatomically structured? 

The cerebellum consists of two hemispheres connected by the vermis, with gray matter forming the cerebellar cortex and white matter housing four cerebellar nuclei.

What are the anatomical divisions of the cerebellum? 

The cerebellum can be subdivided into three lobes – anterior, posterior, and flocculonodular, and three functional areas – cerebrocerebellum, spinocerebellum, and vestibulocerebellum.

What is the role of the vermis in the cerebellum? 

The cortex of the vermis coordinates trunk movements, including the neck, shoulders, thorax, abdomen, and hips, contributing to balance and postural adjustments.

What does the intermediate zone of cerebellar hemispheres control? 

The intermediate zone controls distal extremity muscles responsible for limb and finger movements, contributing to fine motor control.

How does the lateral area of cerebellar hemispheres function? 

The lateral area plans sequential movements of the entire body and assesses movement errors, aiding in complex motor coordination.

How does the cerebellum fine-tune motor actions? 

The cerebellum is crucial for making precise adjustments to motor actions, ensuring smooth and coordinated movements.

What is feedforward processing in the cerebellum? 

Signal processing in the cerebellum is primarily feedforward, with minimal internal transmission, facilitating real-time motor control.

How is the cerebellum organized? 

The cerebellum is divided into independent modules with similar structures, working together to ensure smooth movement and coordination.

Can the cerebellum adapt and learn new skills? 

Yes, the cerebellum exhibits plasticity, enabling individuals to refine motor skills through practice and repetition, such as learning to ride a bicycle or play a musical instrument.

The cerebellum, often called the “little brain,” is critical for motor control and coordination. It consists of two hemispheres connected by the vermis and has three lobes and functional areas. It maintains balance, coordinates eye movements, fine-tunes motor actions, and enables real-time motor control. The cerebellum exhibits plasticity, allowing skill acquisition and refinement through practice.

Learn more


  1. “The Cerebellum: Brain for an Implicit Self” by Masao Ito, 2008.
  2. Lippincott’s Pocket Neuroanatomy” Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (2013)
  3. “Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy” LWW (2018)
  4. “Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology” Elsevier (2020)
  5. “The Human Cerebellum” Neurologic Clinics (2014)
  6. “The Cerebellum: From Embryology to Diagnostic Investigations” by Chiara Mancini and Francesco Sicurelli, 2019.
  7. “The Cerebellum: A Brain Area at the Frontier of Inner and Outer Worlds” by Jeremy D. Schmahmann, 2000.
  8. “Cerebellar Modules: Molecules, Morphology, and Function” edited by Masao Ito, Shigeru Tanaka, Jeannie Chin, 1997.
  9. Buckner, R. L., Krienen, F. M., Castellanos, A., Diaz, J. C., & Yeo, B. T. (2011). The organization of the human cerebellum estimated by intrinsic functional connectivity. Journal of Neurophysiology, 106(5), 2322-2345.
  10. Ito, M. (2008). Control of mental activities by internal models in the cerebellum. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(4), 304-313.
  11. Middleton, F. A., & Strick, P. L. (2001). Cerebellar projections to the prefrontal cortex of the primate. Journal of Neuroscience, 21(2), 700-712.
  12. Ramnani, N. (2006). The primate cortico-cerebellar system: anatomy and function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7(7), 511-522.

Binod G C

I'm Binod G C (MSc), a PhD candidate in cell and molecular biology who works as a biology educator and enjoys scientific blogging. My proclivity for blogging is intended to make notes and study materials more accessible to students.

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