The cerebellum is a major brain structure involved in real-time motor coordination and longer-term motor learning. The cerebellar nuclei form the sole output of the cerebellum, yet they remain among the least studied areas of the structure. My laboratory combines in vitro and in vivo electrophysiological and anatomical techniques to uncover the integrative mechanisms of small neuronal circuits within the cerebellar nuclei and its targets, with the long-term goal of understanding neural mechanisms of motor control.
Our initial goals can be broken into two main lines of research: dissecting the inputs and outputs of the cerebellar nuclei. While it is well established that the nuclei receive massive input from Purkinje neurons, which are GABAergic, and mossy and climbing fibers, which are glutamatergic, fine-grained quantitative anatomy addressing the numbers and locations of diverse afferents to single nuclear neurons is lacking. We utilize fluorescent pathway tracing (traditional and transsynaptic) to identify the numbers and locations inputs common to small groups of nuclear neurons within the nuclei. The processing of nuclear output is even less well understood. Our goals include determining how the output of the cerebellar nuclei is integrated by long-range targets and within the nuclear microcircuit. By understanding the synaptic properties of the cerebellar nuclei onto their target neurons, we hope to be able to better interpret spiketrains recorded in the cerebellar nuclei in vivo, an integral goal in reading the neural code. With this information, we will be better equipped to resolve the input-output transformation performed by the nuclei and the cerebellum as a whole. Ultimately this information will provide principles of neural control of movement for use in robotics and aid in treatments of cerebellar disease and malfunction.