Synaptic excitation by climbing fibre collaterals in the cerebellar nuclei of juvenile and adult mice

Marion Najac, Indira M. Raman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Key points: The inferior olive sends instructive motor signals to the cerebellum via the climbing fibre projection, which sends collaterals directly to large premotor neurons of the mouse cerebellar nuclei (CbN cells). Optogenetic activation of inferior olivary axons in vitro evokes EPSCs in CbN cells of several hundred pA to more than 1 nA. The inputs are three-fold larger at younger ages, 12 to 14 days old, than at 2 months old, suggesting a strong functional role for this pathway earlier in development. The EPSCs are multipeaked, owing to burst firing in several olivary afferents that fire asynchronously. The convergence of climbing fibre collaterals onto CbN cells decreases from ∼40 to ∼8, which is consistent with the formation of closed-loop circuits in which each CbN neuron receives input from 4–7 collaterals from inferior olivary neurons as well as from all 30–50 Purkinje cells that are innervated by those olivary neurons. Abstract: The inferior olive conveys instructive signals to the cerebellum that drive sensorimotor learning. Inferior olivary neurons transmit their signals via climbing fibres, which powerfully excite Purkinje cells, evoking complex spikes and depressing parallel fibre synapses. Additionally, however, these climbing fibres send collaterals to the cerebellar nuclei (CbN). In vivo and in vitro data suggest that climbing fibre collateral excitation is weak in adult mice, raising the question of whether the primary role of this pathway may be developmental. We therefore examined climbing fibre collateral input to large premotor CbN cells over development by virally expressing channelrhodopsin in the inferior olive. In acute cerebellar slices from postnatal day (P)12–14 mice, light-evoked EPSCs were large (> 1 nA at −70 mV). The amplitude of these EPSCs decreased over development, reaching a plateau of ∼350 pA at P20–60. Trains of EPSCs (5 Hz) depressed strongly throughout development, whereas convergence estimates indicated that the total number of functional afferents decreased with age. EPSC waveforms consisted of multiple peaks, probably resulting from action potential bursts in single collaterals and variable times to spike threshold in converging afferents. Activating climbing fibre collaterals evoked well-timed increases in firing probability in CbN neurons, especially in younger mice. The initially strong input, followed by the decrement in synaptic strength coinciding with the pruning of climbing fibres in the cerebellar cortex, implicates the climbing fibre collateral pathway in early postnatal development. Additionally, the persistence of substantial synaptic input at least to P60 suggests that this pathway may function in cerebellar processing into adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6703-6718
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • EPSC
  • channelrhodopsin
  • development
  • inferior olive
  • interpositus
  • purkinje

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology

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