Role of plasticity at different sites across the time course of cerebellar motor learning.
Learning comprises multiple components that probably involve cellular and synaptic plasticity at multiple sites. Different neural sites may play their largest roles at different times during behavioral learning. We have used motor learning in smooth pursuit eye movements of monkeys to determine how and when different components of learning occur in a known cerebellar circuit. The earliest learning occurs when one climbing-fiber response to a learning instruction causes simple-spike firing rate of Purkinje cells in the floccular complex of the cerebellum to be depressed transiently at the time of the instruction on the next trial. Trial-over-trial depression and the associated learning in eye movement are forgotten in <6 s, but facilitate long-term behavioral learning over a time scale of ∼5 min. During 100 repetitions of a learning instruction, simple-spike firing rate becomes progressively depressed in Purkinje cells that receive climbing-fiber inputs from the instruction. In Purkinje cells that prefer the opposite direction of pursuit and therefore do not receive climbing-fiber inputs related to the instruction, simple-spike responses undergo potentiation, but more weakly and more slowly. Analysis of the relationship between the learned changes in simple-spike firing and learning in eye velocity suggests an orderly progression of plasticity: first on Purkinje cells with complex-spike (CS) responses to the instruction, later on Purkinje cells with CS responses to the opposite direction of instruction, and last in sites outside the cerebellar cortex. Climbing-fiber inputs appear to play a fast and primary, but nonexclusive, role in pursuit learning.
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