Neurons in the cerebellar nuclei (CN) receive inhibitory inputs from Purkinje cells in the cerebellar cortex and provide the major output from the cerebellum, but their computational function is not well understood. It has recently been shown that the spike activity of Purkinje cells is more regular than previously assumed and that this regularity can affect motor behaviour. We use a conductance-based model of a CN neuron to study the effect of the regularity of Purkinje cell spiking on CN neuron activity. We find that increasing the irregularity of Purkinje cell activity accelerates the CN neuron spike rate and that the mechanism of this recoding of input irregularity as output spike rate depends on the number of Purkinje cells converging onto a CN neuron. For high convergence ratios, the irregularity induced spike rate acceleration depends on short-term depression (STD) at the Purkinje cell synapses. At low convergence ratios, or for synchronised Purkinje cell input, the firing rate increase is independent of STD. The transformation of input irregularity into output spike rate occurs in response to artificial input spike trains as well as to spike trains recorded from Purkinje cells in tottering mice, which show highly irregular spiking patterns. Our results suggest that STD may contribute to the accelerated CN spike rate in tottering mice and they raise the possibility that the deficits in motor control in these mutants partly result as a pathological consequence of this natural form of plasticity.

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The Cerebellum
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Luthman, J., Hoebeek, F., Maex, R., Davey, N., Adams, R., de Zeeuw, C., & Steuber, V. (2011). STD-dependent and independent encoding of input irregularity as spike rate in a computational model of a cerebellar nucleus neuron. The Cerebellum, 10(4), 667–682. doi:10.1007/s12311-011-0295-9