Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The basal ganglia and cerebellum have traditionally been associated with motor performance. Recently, there has been considerable interest regarding the contributions of these subcortical structures to aspecdts of cognition. In particular, both the basal ganglia and cerebellum have been hypothesized to be involved in the control of attentional set. To dat, no neuropsychological studies have directly compared the effects of basal ganglia and cerebellar dysfunction on the same attention shifting tasks. To this end, dwe employed and alternating attention task that has been used to demonstrate putative attentional control deficits in children with cerebellar pathology, either related to autism or neurological insult. When adult patients with either Parkinson's disease or cerebellar lesions were tested on this task, a similar pattern of deficits was observed for both groups. However, when the motor demands were reduced, cerebellar patients showed a significant improvement on the alternating attention task, whereas the Parkinson patients continued to exhibit an impairment. This dissociation suggests that attentional deficits reported previously as being due to cerebellar dysfunction may be, at least in part, secondary to problem related to coordinating successive responses. In contrast, attention-shifting deficits associated with basal ganglia impairment cannot be explained by recourse to the motor demands of the task.