Rate versus synchrony codes for cerebellar control of motor behavior

David J. Herzfeld*, Mati Joshua, Stephen G. Lisberger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Information transmission between neural populations could occur through either coordinated changes in firing rates or the precise transmission of spike timing. We investigate the code for information transmission from a part of the cerebellar cortex that is crucial for the accurate execution of a quantifiable motor behavior. Simultaneous recordings from Purkinje cell pairs in the cerebellum of rhesus macaques reveal how these cells coordinate their activity to drive smooth pursuit eye movements. Purkinje cells show millisecond-scale coordination of spikes (synchrony), but the level of synchrony is small and insufficient to impact the firing of downstream vestibular nucleus neurons. Analysis of previous metrics that purported to reveal Purkinje cell synchrony demonstrates that these metrics conflate changes in firing rate and neuron-neuron covariance. We conclude that the output of the cerebellar cortex uses primarily a rate rather than a synchrony code to drive the activity of downstream neurons and thus control motor behavior.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2448-2460.e6
Issue number15
StatePublished - 2 Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by NIH grants R01-NS112917 (S.G.L.) and K99-EY030528 (D.J.H). We thank Stefanie Tokiyama and Bonnie Bowell for technical assistance, including care of the monkeys. We also thank Nathan J. Hall for helpful discussions, as well as the three reviewers for their insightful comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Inc.


  • Purkinje cells
  • cerebellum
  • neural codes
  • rate code
  • smooth pursuit
  • synchrony
  • ventral paraflocculus


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