The Organization of Plasticity in the Cerebellar Cortex: From Synapses to Control

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The cerebellum is thought to play a critical role in procedural learning, but the relationship between this function and the underlying cellular and synaptic mechanisms remains largely speculative. At present, at least nine forms of long-term synaptic and nonsynaptic plasticity (some of which are bidirectional) have been reported in the cerebellar cortex and deep cerebellar nuclei. These include long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression at the mossy fiber-granule cell synapse, at the synapses formed by parallel fibers, climbing fibers, and molecular layer interneurons on Purkinje cells, and at the synapses formed by mossy fibers and Purkinje cells on deep cerebellar nuclear cells, as well as LTP of intrinsic excitability in granule cells, Purkinje cells, and deep cerebellar nuclear cells. It is suggested that the complex properties of cerebellar learning would emerge from the distribution of plasticity in the network and from its dynamic remodeling during the different phases of learning. Intrinsic and extrinsic factors may hold the key to explain how the different forms of plasticity cooperate to select specific transmission channels and to regulate the signal-to-noise ratio through the cerebellar cortex. These factors include regulation of neuronal excitation by local inhibitory networks, engagement of specific molecular mechanisms by spike bursts and theta-frequency oscillations, and gating by external neuromodulators. Therefore, a new and more complex view of cerebellar plasticity is emerging with respect to that predicted by the original "Motor Learning Theory," opening issues that will require experimental and computational testing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-58
Number of pages28
JournalProgress in Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Cerebellum
  • Granule cell
  • Long-term synaptic plasticity
  • Motor control
  • Purkinje cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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