Physiological and morphological development of the rat cerebellar Purkinje cell


Corresponding author R. W. Turner: Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Dr. N.W., Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 4N1. Email:


Cerebellar Purkinje cells integrate multimodal afferent inputs and, as the only projection neurones of the cerebellar cortex, are key to the coordination of a variety of motor- and learning-related behaviours. In the neonatal rat the cerebellum is undeveloped, but over the first few postnatal weeks both the structure of the cerebellum and cerebellar-dependent behaviours mature rapidly. Maturation of Purkinje cell physiology is expected to contribute significantly to the development of cerebellar output. However, the ontogeny of the electrophysiological properties of the Purkinje cell and its relationship to maturation of cell morphology is incompletely understood. To address this problem we performed a detailed in vitro electrophysiological analysis of the spontaneous and intracellularly evoked intrinsic properties of Purkinje cells obtained from postnatal rats (P0 to P90) using whole-cell patch clamp recordings. Cells were filled with neurobiotin to enable subsequent morphological comparisons. Three stages of physiological and structural development were identified. During the early postnatal period (P0 to ∼P9) Purkinje cells were characterized by an immature pattern of Na+-spike discharge, and possessed only short multipolar dendrites. This was followed by a period of rapid maturation (from ∼P12 to ∼P18), consisting of changes in Na+-spike discharge, emergence of repetitive bursts of Na+ spikes terminated by Ca2+ spikes (Ca2+–Na+ bursts), generation of the trimodal pattern, and a significant expansion of the dendritic tree. During the final stage (> P18 to P90) there were minor refinements of cell output and a plateau in dendritic area. Our results reveal a rapid transition of the Purkinje cell from morphological and physiological immaturity to adult characteristics over a short developmental window, with a close correspondence between changes in cell output and dendritic growth. The development of Purkinje cell intrinsic electrophysiological properties further matches the time course of other measures of cerebellar structural and functional maturation.