Modulation, Plasticity and Pathophysiology of the Parallel Fiber-Purkinje Cell Synapse

Front Synaptic Neurosci. 2016 Nov 3;8:35. doi: 10.3389/fnsyn.2016.00035. eCollection 2016.


The parallel fiber-Purkinje cell (PF-PC) synapse represents the point of maximal signal divergence in the cerebellar cortex with an estimated number of about 60 billion synaptic contacts in the rat and 100,000 billions in humans. At the same time, the Purkinje cell dendritic tree is a site of remarkable convergence of more than 100,000 parallel fiber synapses. Parallel fiber activity generates fast postsynaptic currents via α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptors, and slower signals, mediated by mGlu1 receptors, resulting in Purkinje cell depolarization accompanied by sharp calcium elevation within dendritic regions. Long-term depression (LTD) and long-term potentiation (LTP) have been widely described for the PF-PC synapse and have been proposed as mechanisms for motor learning. The mechanisms of induction for LTP and LTD involve different signaling mechanisms within the presynaptic terminal and/or at the postsynaptic site, promoting enduring modification in the neurotransmitter release and change in responsiveness to the neurotransmitter. The PF-PC synapse is finely modulated by several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, noradrenaline and acetylcholine. The ability of these neuromodulators to gate LTP and LTD at the PF-PC synapse could, at least in part, explain their effect on cerebellar-dependent learning and memory paradigms. Overall, these findings have important implications for understanding the cerebellar involvement in a series of pathological conditions, ranging from ataxia to autism. For example, PF-PC synapse dysfunctions have been identified in several murine models of spino-cerebellar ataxia (SCA) types 1, 3, 5 and 27. In some cases, the defect is specific for the AMPA receptor signaling (SCA27), while in others the mGlu1 pathway is affected (SCA1, 3, 5). Interestingly, the PF-PC synapse has been shown to be hyper-functional in a mutant mouse model of autism spectrum disorder, with a selective deletion of Pten in Purkinje cells. However, the full range of methodological approaches, that allowed the discovery of the physiological principles of PF-PC synapse function, has not yet been completely exploited to investigate the pathophysiological mechanisms of diseases involving the cerebellum. We, therefore, propose to extend the spectrum of experimental investigations to tackle this problem.

Keywords: AMPA receptor; Purkinje cell; ataxia; mGlu1 receptor; parallel fiber; synaptic modulation; synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

  • Review