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Circuit Mechanisms Underlying Motor Memory Formation in the Cerebellum


The cerebellum stores associative motor memories essential for properly timed movement; however, the mechanisms by which these memories form and are acted upon remain unclear. To determine how cerebellar activity relates to movement and motor learning, we used optogenetics to manipulate spontaneously firing Purkinje neurons (PNs) in mouse simplex lobe. Using high-speed videography and motion tracking, we found that altering PN activity produced rapid forelimb movement. PN inhibition drove movements time-locked to stimulus onset, whereas PN excitation drove delayed movements time-locked to stimulus offset. Pairing either PN inhibition or excitation with sensory stimuli triggered the formation of robust, associative motor memories; however, PN excitation led to learned movements whose timing more closely matched training intervals. These findings implicate inhibition of PNs as a teaching signal, consistent with a model whereby learning leads first to reductions in PN firing that subsequently instruct circuit changes in the cerebellar nucleus.

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