Monitoring performance degradation of cerebellar functions using computational neuroscience methods: implications on neurological diseases.
Neurodegeneration is a major cause of human disease. Within the cerebellum, neuronal degeneration and/or dysfunction has been associated with many diseases, including several forms of cerebellar ataxia, since normal cerebellar function is paramount for proper motor coordination, balance, and motor learning. The cerebellum represents a well-established neural circuit. Determining the effects of neuronal loss is of great importance for understanding the fundamental workings of the cerebellum and disease-associated dysfunctions. This paper presents computational modeling of cerebellar function in relation to neurodegeneration either affecting a specific cerebellar cell type, such as granule cells or Purkinje cells, or more generally affecting cerebellar cells and the implications on effects in relation to performance degradation throughout the progression of cell death. The results of the models show that the overall number of cells, as a percentage of the total cell number in the model, of a particular type and, primarily, their proximity to the circuit output, and not the neuronal convergence due to the relative number of cells of a particular type, is the main indicator of the gravity of the functional deficit caused by the degradation of that cell type. Specifically, the greater the percentage loss of neurons of a specific type and the closer proximity of those cells to the deep cerebellar neurons, the greater the deficit caused by the neuronal cell loss. These findings contribute to the understanding of the functional consequences of neurodegeneration and the functional importance of specific connectivity within a neuronal circuit.