Pausing purkinje cells in the cerebellum of the awake cat

Front Syst Neurosci. 2009 Feb 10:3:2. doi: 10.3389/neuro.06.002.2009. eCollection 2009.


A recent controversy has emerged concerning the existence of long pauses, presumably reflecting bistability of membrane potential, in the cerebellar Purkinje cells (PC) of awake animals. It is generally agreed that in the anesthetized animals and in vitro, these cells switch between two stable membrane potential states: a depolarized state (the 'up-state') characterized by continuous firing of simple spikes (SS) and a hyperpolarized state (the 'down-state') characterized by long pauses in the SS activity. To address the existence of long pauses in the neural activity of cerebellar PCs in the awake and behaving animal we used extracellular recordings in cats and find that approximately half of the recorded PCs exhibit such long pauses in the SS activity and transition between activity - periods with uninterrupted SS lasting an average of 1300 ms - and pauses up to several seconds. We called these cells pausing Purkinje cells (PPC) and they can easily be distinguished from continuous firing Purkinje cells. In most PPCs, state transitions in both directions were often associated (25% of state transitions) with complex spikes (CSs). This is consistent with intracellular findings of CS-driven state transitions. In sum, we present proof for the existence of long pauses in the PC SS activity that probably reflect underlying bistability, provide the first in-depth analysis of these pauses and show for the first time that transitions in and out of these pauses are related to CS firing in the awake and behaving animal.

Keywords: Purkinje cell; bistability; cerebellum; complex spike; pauses; simple spike.