Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Neuroscience and BioMed Central.

This article is part of the supplement: Nineteenth Annual Computational Neuroscience Meeting: CNS*2010

Open Access Poster Presentation

Climbing-fiber induced state transitions in cerebellar Purkinje cells are controlled by synaptic conductance changes

Jordan DT Engbers1*, Hamish W Mehaffey1, Fernando R Fernandez2 and Ray W Turner1

Author Affiliations

1 Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, T2N 4N1

2 Department of Bioengineering, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84112, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Neuroscience 2010, 11(Suppl 1):P146  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-11-S1-P146

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Published:20 July 2010

© 2010 Engbers et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

Poster Presentation

Purkinje cells have been previously modeled as a system undergoing a saddle-node bifurcation of fixed points from rest to firing and a saddle homoclinic orbit bifurcation from firing to rest. In vitro, this dynamical structure is a result of the neuron’s intrinsic membrane properties and is associated with bistability within a limited range of low firing frequencies, where a unidirectional climbing fiber (CF) input is able to toggle the cell between a firing (“up”) and rest (“down”) state. We identified several factors that contribute to bistability and the ability for a unidirectional input (CF) to toggle cell output, including a slow K+ current activated during spike discharge or following synaptic depolarizations. However, input conditions that determine the probability for a Purkinje cell to express bistability in vivo have not been determined. A key difference in vivo is the presence of tonic background input to the dendrites from parallel fiber (PF) and stellate cell inputs. We tested the hypothesis that dendritic inputs control the dynamics of Purkinje cell firing, and can thus regulate the ability for CFs to induce toggling of Purkinje cell output.

Presentation of mixed excitatory and inhibitory dendritic current noise (I-noise) or conductance noise (g-noise) to a two-compartment 5-equation model of the Purkinje neuron had differing effects on spike output. Mixed I-noise increased the probability of observing CF-evoked transitions to a down state whether the model was in the low frequency-bistable regime or not. The size and time course of the currents associated with different state transitions suggested that properly timed PF and/or stellate cell inputs could affect the ability for CFs to invoke Purkinje cell transitions. However, conductance noise prevented any CF-evoked transitions and the model was highly sensitive to the E:I ratio. Spike trains with physiological mean frequencies and high coefficient of variation (CV) were also found. Spike triggered averages during g-noise revealed that the spikes were being driven by synaptic inputs and not intrinsic dynamics, indicating a shift in computational properties between high and low conductance states.


Here we show that bistability in a Purkinje neuron can be controlled by the amount of synaptic input it receives. Of the two types of noise we used, I-noise could cause spontaneous state transitions, but g-noise could not, suggesting that CF-associated toggling would not occur in high conductance states. These results could explain the discrepancy between in vivo and in vitro recordings regarding CF-induced state transitions.


  1. Dean P, Porrill J, Ekerot CF, Jorntell H: The cerebellar microcircuit as an adaptive filter: experimental and computational evidence.

    Nat Rev Neurosci 2009, 11(1):30-43. PubMed Abstract | Publisher Full Text OpenURL

  2. Westby GWM, Collinson C, Dean P: Excitatory drive from deep cerebellar neurons to the superior colliculus in the rat: an electrophysiological mapping study.

    Eur J Neurosci 1993, 5:1378-1388. PubMed Abstract | Publisher Full Text OpenURL

  3. Tabareau N, Bennequin D, Berthoz A, Slotine JJ, Girard B: Geometry of the superior colliculus mapping and efficient oculomotor computation.

    Biol Cybern 2007, 97(4):279-292. PubMed Abstract | Publisher Full Text OpenURL

  4. Patton P, Belkacem-Boussaid K, Anastasio TJ: Multimodality in the superior colliculus: an information theoretic analysis.

    Brain Res Cogn Brain Res 2002, 14(1):10-19. PubMed Abstract | Publisher Full Text OpenURL

  5. Salinas E, Abbott LF: Invariant visual responses from attentional gain fields.

    J Neurophysiol 1997, 77(6):3267-3272. PubMed Abstract | Publisher Full Text OpenURL

  6. Apps R: Movement-related gating of climbing fibre input to cerebellar cortical zones.

    Prog Neurobiol 1999, 57(5):537-562. PubMed Abstract | Publisher Full Text OpenURL

  7. Porrill J, Dean P: Silent synapses, LTP and the indirect parallel-fibre pathway: computational consequences of optimal noise processing.

    PLoS Comput Biol 2008, 4(5):e1000085. PubMed Abstract | Publisher Full Text | PubMed Central Full Text OpenURL

  8. Fernandez FR, Engbers JD, Turner RW: Firing dynamics of cerebellar purkinje cells.

    J Neurophysiol 2007, 98(1):278-294. PubMed Abstract | Publisher Full Text OpenURL