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Concept: Purkinje cell


An unusual feature of the cerebellar cortex is that its output neurons, Purkinje cells, release GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid). Their high intrinsic firing rates (50 Hz) and extensive convergence 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 inversely. One indication of how these synapses transmit information is that populations of Purkinje neurons synchronize their spikes during cerebellar behaviours. If nuclear neurons respond to Purkinje synchrony, they may encode signals from subsets of inhibitory inputs. 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 (τ(decay) = 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.

Concepts: Neuron, Brain, Action potential, Cerebellum, Purkinje cell, Postsynaptic potential, Parallel fiber, Climbing fiber


Local supra-linear summation of excitatory inputs occurring in pyramidal cell dendrites, the so-called dendritic spikes, results in independent spiking dendritic sub-units, which turn pyramidal neurons into two-layer neural networks capable of computing linearly non-separable functions, such as the exclusive OR. Other neuron classes, such as interneurons, may possess only a few independent dendritic sub-units, or only passive dendrites where input summation is purely sub-linear, and where dendritic sub-units are only saturating. To determine if such neurons can also compute linearly non-separable functions, we enumerate, for a given parameter range, the Boolean functions implementable by a binary neuron model with a linear sub-unit and either a single spiking or a saturating dendritic sub-unit. We then analytically generalize these numerical results to an arbitrary number of non-linear sub-units. First, we show that a single non-linear dendritic sub-unit, in addition to the somatic non-linearity, is sufficient to compute linearly non-separable functions. Second, we analytically prove that, with a sufficient number of saturating dendritic sub-units, a neuron can compute all functions computable with purely excitatory inputs. Third, we show that these linearly non-separable functions can be implemented with at least two strategies: one where a dendritic sub-unit is sufficient to trigger a somatic spike; another where somatic spiking requires the cooperation of multiple dendritic sub-units. We formally prove that implementing the latter architecture is possible with both types of dendritic sub-units whereas the former is only possible with spiking dendrites. Finally, we show how linearly non-separable functions can be computed by a generic two-compartment biophysical model and a realistic neuron model of the cerebellar stellate cell interneuron. Taken together our results demonstrate that passive dendrites are sufficient to enable neurons to compute linearly non-separable functions.

Concepts: Neuron, Action potential, Cerebellum, Axon, Synapse, Dendrite, Pyramidal cell, Purkinje cell


β-III spectrin is present in the brain and is known to be important in the function of the cerebellum. Heterozygous mutations in SPTBN2, the gene encoding β-III spectrin, cause Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 5 (SCA5), an adult-onset, slowly progressive, autosomal-dominant pure cerebellar ataxia. SCA5 is sometimes known as “Lincoln ataxia,” because the largest known family is descended from relatives of the United States President Abraham Lincoln. Using targeted capture and next-generation sequencing, we identified a homozygous stop codon in SPTBN2 in a consanguineous family in which childhood developmental ataxia co-segregates with cognitive impairment. The cognitive impairment could result from mutations in a second gene, but further analysis using whole-genome sequencing combined with SNP array analysis did not reveal any evidence of other mutations. We also examined a mouse knockout of β-III spectrin in which ataxia and progressive degeneration of cerebellar Purkinje cells has been previously reported and found morphological abnormalities in neurons from prefrontal cortex and deficits in object recognition tasks, consistent with the human cognitive phenotype. These data provide the first evidence that β-III spectrin plays an important role in cortical brain development and cognition, in addition to its function in the cerebellum; and we conclude that cognitive impairment is an integral part of this novel recessive ataxic syndrome, Spectrin-associated Autosomal Recessive Cerebellar Ataxia type 1 (SPARCA1). In addition, the identification of SPARCA1 and normal heterozygous carriers of the stop codon in SPTBN2 provides insights into the mechanism of molecular dominance in SCA5 and demonstrates that the cell-specific repertoire of spectrin subunits underlies a novel group of disorders, the neuronal spectrinopathies, which includes SCA5, SPARCA1, and a form of West syndrome.

Concepts: Neuron, Brain, Cerebral cortex, President of the United States, Cerebellum, Zygosity, Purkinje cell, Abraham Lincoln


Smooth pursuit adaptation (SPA) is an example of cerebellum-dependent motor learning that depends on the integrity of the oculomotor vermis (OMV). In an attempt to unveil the neuronal basis of the role of the OMV in SPA, we recorded Purkinje cell simple spikes (PC SS) of trained monkeys. Individual PC SS exhibited specific changes of their discharge patterns during the course of SPA. However, these individual changes did not provide a reliable explanation of the behavioral changes. On the other hand, the population response of PC SS perfectly reflected the changes resulting from adaptation. Population vector was calculated using all cells recorded independent of their location. A population code conveying the behavioral changes is in full accordance with the anatomical convergence of PC axons on target neurons in the cerebellar nuclei. Its computational advantage is the ease with which it can be adjusted to the needs of the behavior by changing the contribution of individual PC SS based on error feedback.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Cell nucleus, Action potential, Cerebellum, Dendrite, Neurons, Purkinje cell


The PACSIN (protein kinase C and casein kinase 2 substrate in neurons) adapter proteins couple components of the clathrin-mediated endocytosis machinery with regulators of actin polymerization and thereby regulate the surface expression of specific receptors. The brain-specific PACSIN 1 is enriched at synapses and has been proposed to affect neuromorphogenesis and the formation and maturation of dendritic spines. In studies of how phosphorylation of PACSIN 1 contributes to neuronal function, we identified serine 358 as a specific site used by casein kinase 2 (CK2) in vitro and in vivo. Phosphorylated PACSIN 1 was found in neuronal cytosol and membrane fractions. This localization could be modulated by trophic factors such as BDNF. We further show that expression of a phospho-negative PACSIN 1 mutant, S358A, or inhibition of CK2 drastically reduces spine formation in neurons. We identified a novel protein complex containing the spine regulator Rac1, its GAP neuron-associated developmentally-regulated protein (NADRIN) and PACSIN 1. CK2 phosphorylation of PACSIN 1 leads to a dissociation of the complex upon BDNF-treatment and induces Rac1-dependent spine formation in dendrites of hippocampal neurons. These findings suggest that upon BDNF signaling PACSIN 1 is phosphorylated by CK2 which is essential for spine formation.

Concepts: Neuron, Signal transduction, Adenosine triphosphate, Protein kinase, Synapse, Dendrite, Protein kinases, Purkinje cell


Ataxia telangiectasia (AT) is a progressive multisystem disorder caused by mutations in the AT-mutated (ATM) gene. AT is a neurodegenerative disease primarily characterized by cerebellar degeneration in children leading to motor impairment. The disease progresses with other clinical manifestations including oculocutaneous telangiectasia, immune disorders, increased susceptibly to cancer and respiratory infections. Although genetic investigations and physiological models have established the linkage of ATM with AT onset, the mechanisms linking ATM to neurodegeneration remain undetermined, hindering therapeutic development. Several murine models of AT have been successfully generated showing some of the clinical manifestations of the disease, however they do not fully recapitulate the hallmark neurological phenotype, thus highlighting the need for a more suitable animal model. We engineered a novel porcine model of AT to better phenocopy the disease and bridge the gap between human and current animal models. The initial characterization of AT pigs revealed early cerebellar lesions including loss of Purkinje cells and altered cytoarchitecture suggesting a developmental etiology for AT and could advocate for early therapies for AT patients. In addition, similar to patients, AT pigs show growth retardation and develop motor deficit phenotypes. By using the porcine system to model human AT, we established the first animal model showing Purkinje cell loss and motor features of the human disease. The novel AT pig provides new opportunities to unmask functions and roles of ATM in ataxia telangiectasia disease and in physiological conditions.

Concepts: Medicine, Neuron, Gene, Neurodegenerative disorders, Cerebellum, Animal model, Purkinje cell, Jan Evangelista Purkyně


The Golgi apparatus lies at the heart of the secretory pathway where it is required for secretory trafficking and cargo modification. Disruption of Golgi architecture and function has been widely observed in neurodegenerative disease, but whether Golgi dysfunction is causal with regard to the neurodegenerative process, or is simply a manifestation of neuronal death, remains unclear. Here we report that targeted loss of the golgin GM130 leads to a profound neurological phenotype in mice. Global KO of mouse GM130 results in developmental delay, severe ataxia, and postnatal death. We further show that selective deletion of GM130 in neurons causes fragmentation and defective positioning of the Golgi apparatus, impaired secretory trafficking, and dendritic atrophy in Purkinje cells. These cellular defects manifest as reduced cerebellar size and Purkinje cell number, leading to ataxia. Purkinje cell loss and ataxia first appear during postnatal development but progressively worsen with age. Our data therefore indicate that targeted disruption of the mammalian Golgi apparatus and secretory traffic results in neuronal degeneration in vivo, supporting the view that Golgi dysfunction can play a causative role in neurodegeneration.

Concepts: Neuron, Golgi apparatus, Cerebellum, Dendrite, Neurons, Purkinje cell, Parallel fiber, Dendritic spine


A central tenet of Rescorla and Wagner’s model of associative learning is that the reinforcement value of a paired trial diminishes as the associative strength between the presented stimuli increases. Despite its fundamental importance to behavioral sciences, the neural mechanisms underlying the model have not been fully explored. Here, we present findings that, taken together, can explain why a stronger association leads to a reduced reinforcement value, within the context of eyeblink conditioning. Specifically, we show that learned pause responses in Purkinje cells, which trigger adaptively timed conditioned eyeblinks, suppress the unconditional stimulus (US) signal in a graded manner. Furthermore, by examining how Purkinje cells respond to two distinct conditional stimuli and to a compound stimulus, we provide evidence that could potentially help explain the somewhat counterintuitive overexpectation phenomenon, which was derived from the Rescorla-Wagner model.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuron, Cerebellum, Classical conditioning, Purkinje cell, Eyeblink conditioning, Behavioral concepts, Rescorla-Wagner model


Purkinje neurons are central to cerebellar function and show membrane bistability when recorded in vitro or in vivo under anesthesia. The existence of bistability in vivo in awake animals is disputed. Here, by recording intracellularly from Purkinje neurons in unanesthetized larval zebrafish (Danio rerio), we unequivocally demonstrate bistability in these neurons. Tonic firing was seen in depolarized regimes and bursting at hyperpolarized membrane potentials. In addition, Purkinje neurons could switch from one state to another spontaneously or with current injection. While GABAAR or NMDAR were not required for bursting, activation of AMPARs by climbing fibers (CFs) was sufficient to trigger bursts. Further, by recording Purkinje neuron membrane potential intracellularly, and motor neuron spikes extracellularly, we show that initiation of motor neuron spiking is correlated with increased incidence of CF EPSPs and membrane depolarization. Developmentally, bistability was observed soon after Purkinje neuron specification and persists at least until late larval stages.

Concepts: Neuron, Action potential, Cerebellum, Dendrite, Membrane potential, Purkinje cell, Parallel fiber, Climbing fiber


Scanning ultrasound (SUS) is a noninvasive approach that has recently been shown to ameliorate histopathological changes and restore memory functions in an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model. Although no overt neuronal damage was reported, the short- and long-term effects of SUS on neuronal excitability and dendritic tree morphology had not been investigated. To address this, we performed patch-clamp recordings from hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons in wild-type mice 2 and 24 hours after a single SUS treatment, and one week and 3 months after six weekly SUS treatments, including sham treatments as controls. In both treatment regimes, no changes in CA1 neuronal excitability were observed in SUS-treated neurons when compared to sham-treated neurons at any time-point. For the multiple treatment groups, we also determined the dendritic morphology and spine densities of the neurons from which we had recorded. The apical trees of sham-treated neurons were reduced at the 3 month time-point when compared to one week; however, surprisingly, no longitudinal change was detected in the apical dendritic trees of SUS-treated neurons. In contrast, the length and complexity of the basal dendritic trees were not affected by SUS treatment at either time-point. The apical dendritic spine densities were reduced, independent of the treatment group, at 3 months compared to one week. Collectively, these data suggest that ultrasound can be employed to prevent an age-associated loss of dendritic structure without impairing neuronal excitability.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Neuron, Action potential, Cerebral cortex, Hippocampus, Dendrite, Pyramidal cell, Purkinje cell