A spontaneous neurological mutation, dilute-opisthotonus (dop), was discovered in our breeding colony of Wistar rats. We found that the mutation affected the gene encoding Myosin Va (MyoVA), an actin-based molecular motor. Analysis of the myosin Va (Myo5a) gene of the dop genome showed the presence of a complex rearrangement consisting of a 306-bp inversion associated with 217-bp and 17-bp deletions. A 141-bp exon is skipped in the dop transcript, producing a dop cDNA with a 141 in-frame deletion in the sequences encoding the head region. Expression of the MyoVA protein is severely impaired in the brains of dop homozygous rats, suggesting they have a null mutation for Myo5a. In a morphological analysis of the cerebella of dop rats, we found an absence of smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER) and of inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate (IP3) receptors in the dendritic spines of Purkinje cells (PC). The SER acts as an intracellular Ca(2+) store and IP3-mediated Ca(2+) signaling in dendritic spines plays a critical role in synaptic regulation. We therefore measured synaptic transmission and long-term depression (LTD), a form of synaptic plasticity underlying cerebellar motor learning, at PC synapses in the cerebella of dop rats. We found that synaptic transmission at the PC synapses is largely normal, whereas the LTD is deficient due to a decrease in IP3-mediated Ca(2+) release from the SER in the PC spines of the dop cerebella. These findings may account for the ataxic movements and clonic convulsions displayed by dop rats. They also contribute to our understanding of the neurological disease mechanisms of the human hereditary disease Griscelli syndrome type 1, which is caused by mutation of the Myo5a gene.