A crucial issue in understanding cerebellar function is the interaction between simple spike (SS) and complex spike (CS) discharge, the two fundamentally different activity modalities of Purkinje cells. Although several hypotheses have provided insights into the interaction, none fully explain or are completely consistent with the spectrum of experimental observations. Here, we show that during a pseudo-random manual tracking task in the monkey (Macaca mulatta), climbing fiber discharge dynamically controls the information present in the SS firing, triggering robust and rapid changes in the SS encoding of motor signals in 67% of Purkinje cells. The changes in encoding, tightly coupled to CS occurrences, consist of either increases or decreases in the SS sensitivity to kinematics or position errors and are not due to differences in SS firing rates or variability. Nor are the changes in sensitivity due to CS rhythmicity. In addition, the CS-coupled changes in encoding are not evoked by changes in kinematics or position errors. Instead, CS discharge most often leads alterations in behavior. Increases in SS encoding of a kinematic parameter are associated with larger changes in that parameter than are decreases in SS encoding. Increases in SS encoding of position error are followed by and scale with decreases in error. The results suggest a novel function of CSs, in which climbing fiber input dynamically controls the state of Purkinje cell SS encoding in advance of changes in behavior.
Purkinje cells, the sole output of the cerebellar cortex, manifest two fundamentally different activity modalities, CS discharge and SS firing. Elucidating cerebellar function will require an understanding of the interactions, both short and long-term, between CS and SS firing. This study shows that CSs dynamically control the information encoded in a Purkinje cell's SS activity by rapidly increasing or decreasing the SS sensitivity to kinematics and/or performance errors independent of firing rate. In many cases, the CS-coupled shift in SS encoding leads a change in behavior. These novel findings on the interaction between CS and SS firing provide for a new hypothesis in which climbing fiber input adjusts the encoding of SS information in advance of a change in behavior.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
We wish to thank Lijuan Zhou, Teresa Kim, and Samantha Gibson for technical support and Kris Bettin for manuscript preparation. Supported in part by NIH grants R01 NS18338, T32 GM008471, and F31-NS095408-01 and NSF grant IGERT DGE- 1069104.