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Purkinje neuron synchrony elicits time-locked spiking in the cerebellar nuclei


An unusual feature of the cerebellar cortex is that its output neurons, Purkinje cells, release GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid). Their high intrinsic firing rates1 (50 Hz) and extensive convergence2,3 predict that their target neurons in the cerebellar nuclei would be largely inhibited unless Purkinje cells pause their spiking, yet Purkinje and nuclear neuron firing rates do not always vary inversely4. One indication of how these synapses transmit information is that populations of Purkinje neurons synchronize their spikes during cerebellar behaviours5,6,7,8,9,10,11. If nuclear neurons respond to Purkinje synchrony, they may encode signals from subsets of inhibitory inputs7,12,13,14. Here we show in weanling and adult mice that nuclear neurons transmit the timing of synchronous Purkinje afferent spikes, owing to modest Purkinje-to-nuclear convergence ratios (40:1), fast inhibitory postsynaptic current kinetics (τdecay = 2.5 ms) and high intrinsic firing rates (90 Hz). In vitro, dynamically clamped asynchronous inhibitory postsynaptic potentials mimicking Purkinje afferents suppress nuclear cell spiking, whereas synchronous inhibitory postsynaptic potentials entrain nuclear cell spiking. With partial synchrony, nuclear neurons time-lock their spikes to the synchronous subpopulation of inputs, even when only 2 out of 40 afferents synchronize. In vivo, nuclear neurons reliably phase-lock to regular trains of molecular layer stimulation. Thus, cerebellar nuclear neurons can preferentially relay the spike timing of synchronized Purkinje cells to downstream premotor areas.

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Figure 1: Purkinje cell convergence and fast IPSCs in the cerebellar nuclei.
Figure 2: Entrainment of nuclear neuron spiking to synchronous IPSPs.
Figure 3: The synchronous subpopulation of Purkinje inputs sets spike timing of nuclear neurons.
Figure 4: Nuclear neurons phase-lock to molecular layer stimulation in vivo.


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We are grateful to J. R. Pugh for new analysis of data from ref. 19 on whole-cell GABA conductances. We thank D. Ferster, D. McLean and C. Woolley for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by NIH grants R01-NS39395 (I.M.R.) and F32-NS067831 (A.L.P.).

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A.L.P. performed all experiments and analyses. A.L.P. and I.M.R. designed and interpreted experiments and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Abigail L. Person or Indira M. Raman.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Person, A., Raman, I. Purkinje neuron synchrony elicits time-locked spiking in the cerebellar nuclei. Nature 481, 502–505 (2012).

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