Computational Properties of Cerebellar Nucleus Neurons: Effects of Stochastic Ion Channel Gating and Input Location
The function of the nervous system is shaped by the refined integration of synaptic inputs taking place at the single neuron level. Gain modulation is a computational principle that is widely used across the brain, in which the response of a neuronal unit to a set of inputs is affected in a multiplicative fashion by a second set of inputs, but without any effect on its selectivity. The arithmetic operations performed by pyramidal cells in cortical brain areas have been well characterised, along with the underlying mechanisms at the level of networks and cells, for instance background synaptic noise and dendritic saturation. However, in spite of the vast amount of research on the cerebellum and its function, little is known about neuronal computations carried out by its cellular components. A particular area of interest are the cerebellar nuclei, the main output gate of the cerebellum to the brain stem and cortical areas. The aim of this thesis is to contribute to an understanding of the arithmetic operations performed by neurons in the cerebellar nuclei. Focus is placed on two putative determinants, the location of the synaptic input and the presence of channel noise. To analyse the effect of channel noise, the known voltage-gated ion channels of a cerebellar nucleus neuron model are translated to stochastic Markov formalisms and their electrophysiologial behaviour is compared to their deterministic Hodgkin-Huxley counterparts. The findings demonstrate that in most cases, the behaviour of stochastic channels matches the reference deterministic models, with the notable exception of voltage-gated channels with fast kinetics. Two potential explanations are suggested for this discrepancy. Firstly, channels with fast kinetics are strongly affected by the artefactual loss of gating events in the simulation that is caused by the use of a finite-length time step. While this effect can be mitigated, in part, by using very small time steps, the second source of simulation artefacts is the rectification of the distribution of open channels, when channel kinetics characteristics allow the generation of a window current, with an temporal-averaged equilibrium close to zero. Further, stochastic gating is implemented in a realistic cerebellar nucleus neuronal model. The resulting stochastic model exhibits probabilistic spiking and a similar output rate as the corresponding deterministic cerebellar nucleus neuronal model. However, the outcomes of this thesis indicate the computational properties of the cerebellar nucleus neuronal model are independent of the presence of ion channel noise. The main result of this thesis is that the synaptic input location determines the single neuron computational properties, both in the cerebellar nucleus and layer Vb pyramidal neuronal models. The extent of multiplication increases systematically with the distance from the soma, for the cerebellar nucleus, but not for the layer Vb pyramidal neuron, where it is smaller than it would be expected for the distance from the soma. For both neurons, the underlying mechanism is related to the combined effect of nonlinearities introduced by dendritic saturation and the synaptic input noise. However, while excitatory inputs in the perisomatic areas in the cerebellar nucleus undergo additive operations and the distal areas multiplicative, in the layer Vb pyramidal neuron the integration of the excitatory driving input is always multiplicative. In addition, the change in gain is sensitive to the synchronicity of the excitatory synaptic input in the layer Vb pyramidal neuron, but not in the cerebellar nucleus neuron. These observations indicate that the same gain control mechanism might be utilized in distinct ways, in different computational contexts and across different areas, based on the neuronal type and its function.
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