We develop a new model that explains how the cerebellum may generate the timing in classical delay eyeblink conditioning. Recent studies show that both Purkinje cells (PCs) and inhibitory interneurons (INs) have parallel signal processing streams with two time scales: an AMPA receptor-mediated fast process and a metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR)-mediated slow process. Moreover, one consistent finding is an increased excitability of PC dendrites (in Larsell's lobule HVI) in animals when they acquire the classical delay eyeblink conditioning naturally, in contrast to in vitro studies, where learning involves long-term depression (LTD). Our model proposes that the delayed response comes from the slow dynamics of mGluR-mediated IP3 activation, and the ensuing calcium concentration change, and not from LTP/LTD. The conditioned stimulus (tone), arriving on the parallel fibers, triggers this slow activation in INs and PC spines. These excitatory (from PC spines) and inhibitory (from INs) signals then interact at the PC dendrites to generate variable waveforms of PC activation. When the unconditioned stimulus (puff), arriving on the climbing fibers, is coupled frequently with this slow activation the waveform is amplified (due to an increased excitability) and leads to a timed pause in the PC population. The disinhibition of deep cerebellar nuclei by this timed pause causes the delayed conditioned response. This suggested PC-IN interaction emphasizes a richer role of the INs in learning and also conforms to the recent evidence that mGluR in the cerebellar cortex may participate in slow motor execution. We show that the suggested mechanism can endow the cerebellar cortex with the versatility to learn almost any temporal pattern, in addition to those that arise in classical conditioning.
Hong, S., & Optican, L. M. (2008). Interaction between Purkinje cells and inhibitory interneurons may create adjustable output waveforms to generate timed cerebellar output. PLoS ONE, 3(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0002770