Climbing fibers predict movement kinematics and performance errors

J Neurophysiol. 2017 Sep 1;118(3):1888-1902. doi: 10.1152/jn.00266.2017. Epub 2017 Jul 12.


Requisite for understanding cerebellar function is a complete characterization of the signals provided by complex spike (CS) discharge of Purkinje cells, the output neurons of the cerebellar cortex. Numerous studies have provided insights into CS function, with the most predominant view being that they are evoked by error events. However, several reports suggest that CSs encode other aspects of movements and do not always respond to errors or unexpected perturbations. Here, we evaluated CS firing during a pseudo-random manual tracking task in the monkey (Macaca mulatta). This task provides extensive coverage of the work space and relative independence of movement parameters, delivering a robust data set to assess the signals that activate climbing fibers. Using reverse correlation, we determined feedforward and feedback CSs firing probability maps with position, velocity, and acceleration, as well as position error, a measure of tracking performance. The direction and magnitude of the CS modulation were quantified using linear regression analysis. The major findings are that CSs significantly encode all three kinematic parameters and position error, with acceleration modulation particularly common. The modulation is not related to "events," either for position error or kinematics. Instead, CSs are spatially tuned and provide a linear representation of each parameter evaluated. The CS modulation is largely predictive. Similar analyses show that the simple spike firing is modulated by the same parameters as the CSs. Therefore, CSs carry a broader array of signals than previously described and argue for climbing fiber input having a prominent role in online motor control.NEW & NOTEWORTHY This article demonstrates that complex spike (CS) discharge of cerebellar Purkinje cells encodes multiple parameters of movement, including motor errors and kinematics. The CS firing is not driven by error or kinematic events; instead it provides a linear representation of each parameter. In contrast with the view that CSs carry feedback signals, the CSs are predominantly predictive of upcoming position errors and kinematics. Therefore, climbing fibers carry multiple and predictive signals for online motor control.

Keywords: Purkinje cell; cerebellar cortex; complex spike; motor control; simple spike.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Motor Skills
  • Movement*
  • Purkinje Cells / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis