Visual perceptual learning is widely assumed to reflect plastic changes occurring along the cerebro-cortical visual pathways, including at the earliest stages of processing, though increasing evidence indicates that higher-level brain areas are also involved. Here we addressed the possibility that the cerebellum plays an important role in visual perceptual learning. Within the realm of motor control, the cerebellum supports learning of new skills and recalibration of motor commands when movement execution is consistently perturbed (adaptation). Growing evidence indicates that the cerebellum is also involved in cognition and mediates forms of cognitive learning. Therefore, the obvious question arises whether the cerebellum might play a similar role in learning and adaptation within the perceptual domain. We explored a possible deficit in visual perceptual learning (and adaptation) in patients with cerebellar damage using variants of a novel motion extrapolation, psychophysical paradigm. Compared to their age- and gender-matched controls, patients with focal damage to the posterior (but not the anterior) cerebellum showed strongly diminished learning, in terms of both rate and amount of improvement over time. Consistent with a double-dissociation pattern, patients with focal damage to the anterior cerebellum instead showed more severe clinical motor deficits, indicative of a distinct role of the anterior cerebellum in the motor domain. The collected evidence demonstrates that a pure form of slow-incremental visual perceptual learning is crucially dependent on the intact cerebellum, bearing the notion that the human cerebellum acts as a learning device for motor, cognitive and perceptual functions. We interpret the deficit in terms of an inability to fine-tune predictive models of the incoming flow of visual perceptual input over time. Moreover, our results suggest a strong dissociation between the role of different portions of the cerebellum in motor versus non-motor functions, with only the posterior lobe being responsible for learning in the perceptual domain.
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