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Research mission

Despite decades of study the exact function of the cerebellum remains largely a mystery. It is not clear how its well known microcircuitry implements the motor coordination, motor learning and cognitive functions attributed to the cerebellum and very little is known about the cellular basis of the cerebellar interactions with cerebral cortex. We investigate these questions using a combined modeling and experimental approach. Our modeling studies span many levels, from simulations of the diffusion of signaling molecules over detailed single cell and network models to system models linking synaptic plasticity with behavioural learning. The molecular models focus at present on anomalous diffusion in spiny dendrites and on stochastic effects during calcium release in spines. We use automated parameter search methods to create new Purkinje cell and deep cerebellar nuclei neuron models which will be used to study the effect of cerebellar learning on spiking in these neurons. At the network level we are investigating information processing in the granular layer and the effect of gap junctions on cerebellar oscillations. The modeling studies are complemented by development of simulation software for efficient single cell simulation and for simulation of reaction-diffusion systems in realistic dendritic morphologies. Experimental studies include in vivo multi-unit recordings in anesthetized and awake rodents and in vitro patch-clamp studies of neurons in cerebellar slices. We study information processing in, in vivo studies by analyzing spiking patterns of Purkinje cells and deep cerebellar nuclei neurons. We continue our studies of Golgi cell responses to tactile stimulation which help us constrain the modeling studies of the granular layer. A new research line uses brain-computer interfacing in a behavioural whisking discrimination paradigm in awake rats to study the interaction between cerebral cortex and cerebellum. Our in vitro studies focus on synaptic plasticity of parallel fiber synapses on Purkinje and Golgi cells and on the molecular characterization of potassium channels in Purkinje cells. We collaborate with other Belgian labs on anatomical studies of Golgi cells and on functional imaging of cerebellar activation.