Man With Missing Cerebellum Provides Clues To Autism Treatment

A man without cerebellum has compelled neurologists to reconsider the role of the cerebellum in a human brain. A better understanding of its function might hold new clues to the treatment of ailment caused by stroke, schizophrenia and, most importantly, autism.

Many scientists now believe cerebellum, which was once thought to have a limited role in balancing and coordinate movement, also plays a part in emotion and thinking processes. There are increasing numbers of evidence to support the new-found role of the cerebellum, said a professor in Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, Jeremy Schmahmann.

A 33-year old man without a cerebellum, Jonathan Keleher, has rightly grabbed the attention of neurologists. Janet Sherman, chief neuropsychologists at Massachusetts General Hospital, has been studying Keleher for last 18 years. At 19, Keleher was asked to draw several complicated lines from a picture, a typical neuropsychological testing. Keleher had difficulties in reproducing those lines correctly. He was tested again at the age of 30 and this time he drew most of the lines correctly.

radio interview of Jonathan
Radio interview of Jonathan


jonathan without cerebellum
Jonathan Keleher – one of the few people known to modern medicine who have managed to live their entire lives without a cerebellum

This experiment showed that the absence of cerebellum causes difficulty in thinking. However, parts of his brain, through years of practice, have taken over the function of his absent cerebellum.  He is a living proof of brain’s amazing power. Over the period of time, Jonathan’s brain has developed strategies to overcome its limitations. Such strategies could be used to help people whose cerebellum has been affected due to stroke, autism or schizophrenia, said Sherman.

Jonathan's Brain Scan - Missing Cerebellum
Jonathan’s Brain Scan (Fig A & B) Vs a Normal Brain (Fig C & D) – Observe the Missing Cerebellum

Although Keleher has a good long-term memory, he is weak in abstract thinking and strategizing.  According to Keleher himself, he is adept at routine work and generally has good social skills. Keleher believes in bouncing back every time he hits the rock bottom. It is his relentless perseverance to better himself that has brought him where he is today, said his family members.

A deeper knowledge of cerebellum could also help people with brain disorder like autism, said Schmahmann. Cerebellum might have a role to play in disorders like autism. People suffering from cerebellum malfunction and people with autism often show similar symptoms such as weak social skills and difficulty in abstract thinking, Schmahmann added.

For further details, please refer to this Published Paper.

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