Background: Cerebellar Purkinje cells (PC) in vivo are commonly reported to generate irregular spike trains, documented by high coefficients of variation of interspike-intervals (ISI). In strong contrast, they fire very regularly in the in vitro slice preparation. We studied the nature of this difference in firing properties by focusing on short-term variability and its dependence on behavioral state.
Methodology/principal findings: Using an analysis based on CV(2) values, we could isolate precise regular spiking patterns, lasting up to hundreds of milliseconds, in PC simple spike trains recorded in both anesthetized and awake rodents. Regular spike patterns, defined by low variability of successive ISIs, comprised over half of the spikes, showed a wide range of mean ISIs, and were affected by behavioral state and tactile stimulation. Interestingly, regular patterns often coincided in nearby Purkinje cells without precise synchronization of individual spikes. Regular patterns exclusively appeared during the up state of the PC membrane potential, while single ISIs occurred both during up and down states. Possible functional consequences of regular spike patterns were investigated by modeling the synaptic conductance in neurons of the deep cerebellar nuclei (DCN). Simulations showed that these regular patterns caused epochs of relatively constant synaptic conductance in DCN neurons.
Conclusions/significance: Our findings indicate that the apparent irregularity in cerebellar PC simple spike trains in vivo is most likely caused by mixing of different regular spike patterns, separated by single long intervals, over time. We propose that PCs may signal information, at least in part, in regular spike patterns to downstream DCN neurons.