The cerebellum is organized into parasagittal zones defined by its climbing and mossy fiber inputs, efferent projections, and Purkinje cell (PC) response properties. Additionally, parasagittal stripes can be visualized with molecular markers, such as heterogeneous expression of the isoenzyme zebrin II (ZII), where sagittal stripes of high ZII expression (ZII+) are interdigitated with stripes of low ZII expression (ZII-). In the pigeon vestibulocerebellum, a ZII+/- stripe pair represents a functional unit, insofar as both ZII+ and ZII- PCs within a stripe pair respond best to the same pattern of optic flow. In the present study, we attempted to determine whether there were any differences in the responses between ZII+ and ZII- PCs within a functional unit in response to optic flow stimuli. In pigeons of either sex, we recorded complex spike activity (CSA) from PCs in response to optic flow, marked recording sites with a fluorescent tracer, and determined the ZII identity of recorded PCs by immunohistochemistry. We found that CSA of ZII+ PCs showed a greater depth of modulation in response to the preferred optic flow pattern compared with ZII- PCs. We suggest that these differences in the depth of modulation to optic flow stimuli are due to differences in the connectivity of ZII+ and ZII- PCs within a functional unit. Specifically, ZII+ PCs project to areas of the vestibular nuclei that provide inhibitory feedback to the inferior olive, whereas ZII- PCs do not. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Although the cerebellum appears to be a uniform structure, Purkinje cells (PCs) are heterogeneous and can be categorized on the basis of the expression of molecular markers. These phenotypes are conserved across species, but the significance is undetermined. PCs in the vestibulocerebellum encode optic flow resulting from self-motion, and those that express the molecular marker zebrin II (ZII+) exhibit more sensitivity to optic flow than those that do not express zebrin II (ZII-).
Keywords: Purkinje cell; optic flow; vestibulocerebellum; zebrin.