The inferior olive (IO) has among the highest densities of neuronal gap junctions in the nervous system. These gap junctions are proposed to be the underlying mechanism for generating synchronous Purkinje cell complex spike (CS) activity. Gap junctions between neurons are formed mostly by connexin36 proteins. Thus, the connexin36 knockout (Cx36KO) mouse provides an opportunity to test whether gap junction coupling between IO neurons is the basis of CS synchrony. Multiple electrode recordings of crus 2 CSs were obtained from wildtype (Wt) and Cx36KO mice. Wts showed statistically significant levels of CS synchrony, with the same spatial distribution as has been reported for other species: high CS synchrony levels occurred mostly among Purkinje cells within the same parasagittally-oriented cortical strip. In contrast, in Cx36KOs, synchrony was at chance levels and had no preferential spatial orientation, supporting the gap junction hypothesis. CS firing rates for Cx36KOs were significantly lower than for Wts, suggesting that electrical coupling is an important determinant of IO excitability. Rhythmic CS activity was present in both Wt and Cx36KOs, suggesting that individual IO cells can act as intrinsic oscillators. In addition, the climbing fiber reflex was absent in the Cx36KOs, validating its use as a tool for assessing electrical coupling of IO neurons. Zebrin II staining and anterograde tracing showed that cerebellar cortical organization and the topography of the olivocerebellar projection are normal in the Cx36KO. Thus, the differences in CS activity between Wts and Cx36KOs likely reflect the loss of electrical coupling of IO cells.

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The Cerebellum
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Marshall, S., van der Giessen, R. S., de Zeeuw, C., & Lang, E. (2007). Altered olivocerebellar activity patterns in the connexin36 knockout mouse. The Cerebellum, 6(4), 287–299. doi:10.1080/14734220601100801