Distributed Circuit Plasticity: New Clues for the Cerebellar Mechanisms of Learning

Egidio D’Angelo, Lisa Mapelli, Claudia Casellato, Jesus A. Garrido, Niceto Luque, Jessica Monaco, Francesca Prestori, Alessandra Pedrocchi, Eduardo Ros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cerebellum is involved in learning and memory of sensory motor skills. However, the way this process takes place in local microcircuits is still unclear. The initial proposal, casted into the Motor Learning Theory, suggested that learning had to occur at the parallel fiber–Purkinje cell synapse under supervision of climbing fibers. However, the uniqueness of this mechanism has been questioned, and multiple forms of long-term plasticity have been revealed at various locations in the cerebellar circuit, including synapses and neurons in the granular layer, molecular layer and deep-cerebellar nuclei. At present, more than 15 forms of plasticity have been reported. There has been a long debate on which plasticity is more relevant to specific aspects of learning, but this question turned out to be hard to answer using physiological analysis alone. Recent experiments and models making use of closed-loop robotic simulations are revealing a radically new view: one single form of plasticity is insufficient, while altogether, the different forms of plasticity can explain the multiplicity of properties characterizing cerebellar learning. These include multi-rate acquisition and extinction, reversibility, self-scalability, and generalization. Moreover, when the circuit embeds multiple forms of plasticity, it can easily cope with multiple behaviors endowing therefore the cerebellum with the properties needed to operate as an effective generalized forward controller.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-151
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Cerebellum
  • Distributed plasticity
  • Learning
  • Long-term synaptic plasticity
  • LTD
  • LTP
  • Memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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