The anatomy of fear learning in the cerebellum: A systematic meta-analysis

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Abstract

Recent neuro-imaging studies have implicated the cerebellum in several higher-order functions. Its role in human fear conditioning has, however, received limited attention. The current meta-analysis examines the loci of cerebellar contributions to fear conditioning in healthy subjects, thus mapping, for the first time, the neural response to conditioned aversive stimuli onto the cerebellum. By using the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) technique for analyses, we identified several distinct regions in the cerebellum that activate in response to the presentation of the conditioned stimulus: the cerebellar tonsils, lobules HIV–VI, and the culmen. These regions have separately been implicated in fear acquisition, consolidation of fear memories and expression of conditioned fear responses. Their specific role in these processes may be attributed to the general contribution of cerebellar cortical networks to timing and prediction. Our meta-analysis highlights the potential role of the cerebellum in human cognition and emotion in general, and addresses the possibility how deficits in associative cerebellar learning may play a role in the pathogenesis of anxiety disorders. Future studies are needed to further clarify the mechanistic role of the cerebellum in higher order functions and neuropsychiatric disorders.

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