Model-driven analysis of eyeblink classical conditioning reveals the underlying structure of cerebellar plasticity and neuronal activity

Alberto Antonietti, Claudia Casellato, Egidio D'Angelo, Alessandra Pedrocchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cerebellum plays a critical role in sensorimotor control. However, how the specific circuits and plastic mechanisms of the cerebellum are engaged in closed-loop processing is still unclear. We developed an artificial sensorimotor control system embedding a detailed spiking cerebellar microcircuit with three bidirectional plasticity sites. This proved able to reproduce a cerebellar-driven associative paradigm, the eyeblink classical conditioning (EBCC), in which a precise time relationship between an unconditioned stimulus (US) and a conditioned stimulus (CS) is established. We challenged the spiking model to fit an experimental data set from human subjects. Two subsequent sessions of EBCC acquisition and extinction were recorded and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was applied on the cerebellum to alter circuit function and plasticity. Evolutionary algorithms were used to find the near-optimal model parameters to reproduce the behaviors of subjects in the different sessions of the protocol. The main finding is that the optimized cerebellar model was able to learn to anticipate (predict) conditioned responses with accurate timing and success rate, demonstrating fast acquisition, memory stabilization, rapid extinction, and faster reacquisition as in EBCC in humans. The firing of Purkinje cells (PCs) and deep cerebellar nuclei (DCN) changed during learning under the control of synaptic plasticity, which evolved at different rates, with a faster acquisition in the cerebellar cortex than in DCN synapses. Eventually, a reduced PC activity released DCN discharge just after the CS, precisely anticipating the US and causing the eyeblink. Moreover, a specific alteration in cortical plasticity explained the EBCC changes induced by cerebellar TMS in humans. In this paper, for the first time, it is shown how closed-loop simulations, using detailed cerebellar microcircuit models, can be successfully used to fit real experimental data sets. Thus, the changes of the model parameters in the different sessions of the protocol unveil how implicit microcircuit mechanisms can generate normal and altered associative behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7558111
JournalIEEE Transactions on Neural Networks and Learning Systems
Issue number99
Publication statusPublished - Sept 1 2016


  • Cerebellum
  • distributed plasticity
  • eyeblink classical conditioning (EBCC)
  • genetic algorithm (GA)
  • long-term plasticity
  • spiking network model (SNN)
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Artificial Intelligence


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