Differential Coding Strategies in Glutamatergic and GABAergic Neurons in the Medial Cerebellar Nucleus

J Neurosci. 2020 Jan 2;40(1):159-170. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0806-19.2019. Epub 2019 Nov 6.


The cerebellum drives motor coordination and sequencing of actions at the millisecond timescale through adaptive control of cerebellar nuclear output. Cerebellar nuclei integrate high-frequency information from both the cerebellar cortex and the two main excitatory inputs of the cerebellum: the mossy fibers and the climbing fiber collaterals. However, how nuclear cells process rate and timing of inputs carried by these inputs is still debated. Here, we investigate the influence of the cerebellar cortical output, the Purkinje cells, on identified cerebellar nuclei neurons in vivo in male mice. Using transgenic mice expressing Channelrhodopsin2 specifically in Purkinje cells and tetrode recordings in the medial nucleus, we identified two main groups of neurons based on the waveform of their action potentials. These two groups of neurons coincide with glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons identified by optotagging after Chrimson expression in VGLUT2-cre and GAD-cre mice, respectively. The glutamatergic-like neurons fire at high rate and respond to both rate and timing of Purkinje cell population inputs, whereas GABAergic-like neurons only respond to the mean population firing rate of Purkinje cells at high frequencies. Moreover, synchronous activation of Purkinje cells can entrain the glutamatergic-like, but not the GABAergic-like, cells over a wide range of frequencies. Our results suggest that the downstream effect of synchronous and rhythmic Purkinje cell discharges depends on the type of cerebellar nuclei neurons targeted.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Motor coordination and skilled movements are driven by the permanent discharge of neurons from the cerebellar nuclei that communicate cerebellar computation to other brain areas. Here, we set out to study how specific subtypes of cerebellar nuclear neurons of the medial nucleus are controlled by Purkinje cells, the sole output of the cerebellar cortex. We could isolate different subtypes of nuclear cell that differentially encode Purkinje cell inhibition. Purkinje cell stimulation entrains glutamatergic projection cells at their firing frequency, whereas GABAergic neurons are only inhibited. These differential coding strategies may favor temporal precision of cerebellar excitatory outputs associated with specific features of movement control while setting the global level of cerebellar activity through inhibition via rate coding mechanisms.

Keywords: Purkinje cells; cerebellar nuclei; cerebellum; electrophysiology in vivo; temporal coding.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Anesthesia
  • Animals
  • Cerebellar Nuclei / cytology
  • Cerebellar Nuclei / physiology*
  • Channelrhodopsins / physiology
  • GABAergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase / genetics
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology*
  • Interneurons / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motor Skills
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Optogenetics
  • Purkinje Cells / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2 / genetics
  • Wakefulness


  • Channelrhodopsins
  • Slc17a6 protein, mouse
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase
  • glutamate decarboxylase 2