Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2637-1569

Date of Award

8-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Jessica Turner

Second Advisor

Tricia King

Third Advisor

Robin Morris

Fourth Advisor

Theodore Satterthwaite

Abstract

The cerebellum is a modulator of both motor and cognitive functions, helping to make these behaviors both coordinated and efficient. It is structurally and functionally connected to the prefrontal cortex (PFC) through multisynaptic, closed-loop circuits. Neuroimaging studies have established that the posterior lobules of the cerebellum are active during executive function (EF) tasks and are functionally connected to cortical regions of EF-associated networks such as the fronto-parietal network (FPN) and cingulo-opercular network (CON). Despite much evidence that the developmental timecourses of EF and cerebello-cortical connectivity are similar, and early damage to the cerebellum can cause numerous cognitive deficits, relationships between executive functions and cerebello-cortical functional connectivity during childhood and adolescence have not yet been investigated. We therefore aimed to elucidate relationships between cerebello-cortical connectivity and EFs across childhood and adolescence, in a large, typically developing sample ages 8 – 21 (N = 554). Independent components analysis (ICA) was utilized to compute resting-state functional connectivity between posterior cerebellum and FPN/CON. Connectivity values were extracted and entered into multiple linear regression and conditional processes models predicting EF efficiency on tasks of attention, working memory, and flexibility. First, we observed positive linear relationships between age and cerebello-cortical connectivity. In addition, posterior cerebellum – PFC connectivity predicted attention and working memory efficiency. Further, left posterior cerebellum – anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) connectivity mediated the relationship between CON connectivity and both attention and working memory performance. However, age was a stronger predictor of EF efficiency than was connectivity, and mediation was not present when age was included in statistical models. Significant age ´ connectivity interactions were present, as well. Cerebellum – CON connectivity became stronger with age, as predicted, but the relationship between cerebellum – ACC connectivity and attention efficiency was only significant in younger children. We hypothesize that during childhood, the posterior cerebellum and ACC create and update internal models to facilitate sustained attention and conflict and error monitoring (i.e. executive attention) on attention and working memory tasks. Results shed light on relationships among age, cerebello-cortical connectivity, and executive functioning during typical development and can help to guide future clinical research questions.

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