The cerebellum regulates complex movements and is also implicated in cognitive tasks, and cerebellar dysfunction is consequently associated not only with movement disorders, but also with conditions like autism and dyslexia. How information is encoded by specific cerebellar firing patterns remains debated, however. A central question is how the cerebellar cortex transmits its integrated output to the cerebellar nuclei via GABAergic synapses from Purkinje neurons. Possible answers come from accumulating evidence that subsets of Purkinje cells synchronize their firing during behaviors that require the cerebellum. Consistent with models predicting that coherent activity of inhibitory networks has the capacity to dictate firing patterns of target neurons, recent experimental work supports the idea that inhibitory synchrony may regulate the response of cerebellar nuclear cells to Purkinje inputs, owing to the interplay between unusually fast inhibitory synaptic responses and high rates of intrinsic activity. Data from multiple laboratories lead to a working hypothesis that synchronous inhibitory input from Purkinje cells can set the timing and rate of action potentials produced by cerebellar nuclear cells, thereby relaying information out of the cerebellum. If so, then changing spatiotemporal patterns of Purkinje activity would allow different subsets of inhibitory neurons to control cerebellar output at different times. Here we explore the evidence for and against the idea that a synchrony code defines, at least in part, the input-output function between the cerebellar cortex and nuclei. We consider the literature on the existence of simple spike synchrony, convergence of Purkinje neurons onto nuclear neurons, and intrinsic properties of nuclear neurons that contribute to responses to inhibition. Finally, we discuss factors that may disrupt or modulate a synchrony code and describe the potential contributions of inhibitory synchrony to other motor circuits.
Keywords: IPSC; Purkinje; action potential; cerebellar nuclei; corticonuclear; inhibition; interpositus; spatiotemporal.