Motor learning occurs through interactions between the cerebellar circuit and cellular plasticity at different sites. Previous work has established plasticity in brain slices and suggested plausible sites of behavioral learning. We now reveal what actually happens in the cerebellum during short-term learning. We monitor the expression of plasticity in the simple-spike firing of cerebellar Purkinje cells during trial-over-trial learning in smooth pursuit eye movements of monkeys. Our findings imply that: 1) a single complex-spike response driven by one instruction for learning causes short-term plasticity in a Purkinje cell's mossy fiber/parallel-fiber input pathways; 2) complex-spike responses and simple-spike firing rate are correlated across the Purkinje cell population; and 3) simple-spike firing rate at the time of an instruction for learning modulates the probability of a complex-spike response, possibly through a disynaptic feedback pathway to the inferior olive. These mechanisms may participate in long-term motor learning. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01574.001.
Keywords: cerebellar learning; climbing fiber; floccular complex; non-human primate; smooth pursuit eye movements; trial-over-trial learning.