The vulnerability of the fetal and newborn brain to events in utero or at birth that cause damage arising from perturbations of cerebral blood flow and metabolism, such as the accumulation of free radicals and excitatory transmitters to neurotoxic levels, has received considerable attention over the last few decades. Attention has usually been on the damage to cerebral structures, particularly, periventricular white matter. The rapid growth of the cerebellum in the latter half of fetal life in species with long gestations, such as the human and sheep, suggests that this may be a particularly important time for the development of cerebellar structure and function. In this short review, we summarize data from recent studies with fetal sheep showing that the developing cerebellum is particularly sensitive to infectious processes, chronic hypoxia and asphyxia. The data demonstrates that the cerebellum should be further studied in insults of this nature as it responds differently to the remainder of the brain. Damage to this region of the brain has implications not only for the development of motor control and posture, but also for higher cognitive processes and the subsequent development of complex behaviours, such as learning, memory and attention.
- Cerebellar damage