2008 Volume 214 Issue 3 Pages 175-190
Cerebellar Purkinje cells (PCs) play a principal role in motor coordination and motor learning. To fulfill these functions, PCs receive and integrate two types of excitatory inputs, climbing fiber (CF) and parallel fiber (PF). CFs are projection axons from the inferior olive, and convey error signals to PCs. On the other hand, PFs are T-shaped axons of cerebellar granule cells, and convey sensory and motor information carried through the pontocerebellar and spinocerebellar mossy fiber pathways. The most remarkable feature of PC circuits is the highly territorial innervation by these two excitatory afferents. A single climbing CF powerfully and exclusively innervates proximal PC dendrites, whereas hundreds of thousands of PFs innervate distal PC dendrites. Recent studies using gene-manipulated mice have been elucidating that the PC circuitry is formed and maintained by molecular mechanisms that fuel homosynaptic competition among CFs and heterosynaptic competition between CFs and PFs. GluRδ2 (a PC-specific glutamate receptor) and precerebellin or Cbln1 (a granule cell-derived secretory protein) cooperatively work for selective strengthening of PF-PC synapses, and prevent excessive distal extension of CFs that eventually causes multiple innervation at distal dendrites. In contrast, P/Q-type Ca2+ channels, which mediate Ca2+ influx upon CF activity, selectively strengthen the innervation by a single main CF, and expel PFs and other CFs from proximal dendrites that it innervates. Therefore, we now understand that owing to these mechanisms, territorial innervation by CFs and PFs is properly structured and mono-innervation by CFs is established. Several key issues for future study are also discussed.