The climbing fiber-Purkinje cell circuit is one of the most powerful and highly conserved in the central nervous system. Climbing fibers exert a powerful excitatory action that results in a complex spike in Purkinje cells and normal functioning of the cerebellum depends on the integrity of climbing fiber-Purkinje cell synapse. Over the last 50 years, multiple hypotheses have been put forward on the role of the climbing fibers and complex spikes in cerebellar information processing and motor control. Central to these theories is the nature of the interaction between the low-frequency complex spike discharge and the high-frequency simple spike firing of Purkinje cells. This review examines the major hypotheses surrounding the action of the climbing fiber-Purkinje cell projection, discussing both supporting and conflicting findings. The review describes newer findings establishing that climbing fibers and complex spikes provide predictive signals about movement parameters and that climbing fiber input controls the encoding of behavioral information in the simple spike firing of Purkinje cells. Finally, we propose the dynamic encoding hypothesis for complex spike function that strives to integrate established and newer findings.
Keywords: Cerebellar cortex; Climbing fibers; Complex spike; Motor error; Purkinje cell; Simple spike.