Purkinje Cells

By Mandana Minai
Published: 2014-08-12
Keywords: Purkinje cells, Neuron, Cerebellar Cortex
Purkinje Cells

Purkinje cells, also called Purkinje neurons, are neurons in vertebrate animals located in the cerebellar cortex of the brain. Purkinje cell bodies are shaped like a flask and have many threadlike extensions called dendrites, which receive impulses from other neurons called granule cells. Each cell also has a single projection called an axon, which transmits impulses to the part of the brain that controls movement, the cerebellum. Purkinje cells are inhibitory neurons: they secrete neurotransmitters that bind to receptors that inhibit or reduce the firing of other neurons. Purkinje cells were the first neuronal cells identified. Researchers study the embryonic development of Purkinje cells to elucidate how they function in various mechanisms in the body.

Jan Evangelista Purkyně (Purkinje), working at the University of Breslau in Breslau, Prussia, discovered these cells in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1832, he obtained a Plössl achromatic microscope, which brought two colors into focus at the same time, and he examined the structure of the cells in sheep. He used alcohol to fix his preparations and made thin sections of sheep brain tissues to examine them microscopically. Purkyně described the cells, which were later named after him, in his paper on the histology of the nervous system, "Neueste Untersuchungen aus der Nerven-und Hirnanatomie" (Recent Studies from the Nerve and Brain Anatomy), which he presented in September 1837 in Prague, Bohemia, which later became the Czech Republic.

In the centuries after Purkyně´s discovery, researchers studied the structure and functions of Purkinje cells. In the late nineteenth century, Camillo Golgi, at the University of Pavia in Lombardy, Italy, examined Purkinje cells by staining them with silver nitrate. The silver nitrate stain enabled him to describe the cell body and its extensions. Santiago Ramón y Cajal at the University of Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain, refined Golgi´s technique and discovered that Purkinje cells have dendritic spines, which are small, door knob-like protrusions on the dendrites. Golgi and Ramón y Cajal shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1906 for their research on the nervous system´s structure. Since then, research on these cells uncovered Purkinje cells´ relationships with other cells, such as Bergmann glial cells and granule cells as well as the details of their functions in the cerebellum.

Purkinje cells participate in the processes of motor control and learning. They are the only cells that emit signals from the cerebellar cortex that is the outer layer of the cerebellum, though they can receive input from hundreds of thousands of cells. Each cell body is eighty microns in diameter and inhibits the excitatory neurons of the spinal cord and other areas, from which they receive input. Purkinje cells regulate the activation of excitatory neurons by interactions with their dendrites. Purkinje cells release gama-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter that inhibits certain neurons from transmitting impulses. The output of the nerve cells is through the axon that caries electrical impulses.

Purkinje cells inhibit the output centers called deep cerebellar nuclei and vestibular nuclei neurons in the cerebellum by regulating the timing of the rising and falling of electrical signals (action potentials) down nuclei neurons´ axons. In turn, they control the output signals of the cerebellum. Through synchronized signals, Purkinje cells control the rate at which signals fire in the cerebellum to produce precise output from the nuclei neurons, resulting in motor coordination such as hand movement. Studies on mammals revealed that Purkinje cells also synthesize the hormones progesterone and estradiol during the formation of the cerebellar circuits in developing embryos and fetuses. Progesterone and estradiol promote the growth of dendrites, development of synapses (synaptogenesis), and development of spines on the dendrites (spinogenesis) in the developing Purkinje cell.

Two kinds of neuronal fibers carry input to the Purkinje cells: mossy fibers and climbing fibers. Mossy fibers, which originate in the spinal cord and brain stem influence Purkinje cells by way of granule cells. Mossy fibers along with granule cells divide in two and form parallel fibers, analogous to telephone lines in a neighborhood. Each Purkinje cell receives input from roughly 200,000 parallel fibers. Climbing fibers originate in the inferior olivary nucleus of the medulla oblongata, a region of the brainstem responsible for regulating respiration, heart rate, and digestive processes. The climbing fibers wrap around the body and dendrites of the Purkinje cell and make many synaptic contacts, but unlike mossy fibers, they contact only a few Purkinje cells. Moreover, each of the Purkinje cells receives input from at most one climbing fiber.

Embryonic research of mouse and rat brains showed the neurogenic aspects of Purkinje cells. When vertebrates are embryos, Purkinje cells arise in the ventricular zone in the neural tube, the nervous system´s precursor in the embryo. Purkinje cells originate from a tissue called the cerebellar primordium. The cells that develop first are those of the cerebellum´s two hemispheres, or halves. Those cells generated in the cerebellar primordium form a cap over a diamond-shaped cavity of the developing brain called the fourth ventricle. The Purkinje cells that develop later are those of the cerebellum´s center-lying section called the vermis. They develop in the cerebellar primordium that covers the fourth ventricle and below a fissure-like region called the isthmus of the developing brain. Purkinje cells migrate toward the outer surface of the cerebellar cortex and form the Purkinje cell layer. Development of these cells depends on several proteins, such as Early B-cell factor 2 and ROR-alpha, and a glycoprotein called Reelin. Reelin helps to assemble Purkinje cells along a thick structure called the Purkinje plate and then along a single layer of cells in the cerebellum (Purkinje cell layer). Sonic Hedgehog proteins function in patterning of the central nervous system. Investigations of Purkinje cells in mouse and chick embryos demonstrate that by producing Sonic Hedgehog proteins, these cells are necessary for growth and patterning of the cerebellum.

Purkinje cells are susceptible to both genetic and environmental influences that may disrupt their regular functions. Embryonic examinations of the Ts65Dn strain of mice, which are are a genetic model for Down syndrome in humans (trisomy twenty-one), show that the axons of Purkinje cells are degenerated in the mice´s cerebellum. Exposure of the fetus to alcohol during embryonic growth can permanently destroy Purkinje cells and lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. Individuals with autism have smaller than normal Purkinje cells. Individuals with fewer than normal amounts of those cells often have Niemann-Pick disease type C, a lipid storage disease.


  1. Abrams, Zéev R., and Xiang Zhang. "Signals and Circuits in the Purkinje Neuron." Frontiers in Neural Circuits 5 (2011): 1–10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3180174/ (Accessed August 11, 2014).
  2. Altman, Joseph, and Shirley A. Bayer. "Embryonic Development of the Rat Cerebellum. III. Regional Differences in the Time of Origin, Migration, and Settling of Purkinje Cells." The Journal of Comparative Neurology 231 (1985): 42–65.
  3. Baptista, Carlos A., Mary E. Hatten, Richard Blazeski, and Carol A. Mason. "Cell-cell Interactions Influence Survival and Differentiation of Purkinje Cells In Vitro." Neuron 12 (1994): 243–60.
  4. Bellamy, Tomas C. "Interactions between Purkinje Neurons and Bergmann Glia." The Cerebellum 5 (2006): 116–26.
  5. Bentivoglio, Marina. "Life and Discoveries of Camillo Golgi." Nobelprize.org http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1906/golgi-article.html (Accessed September 28, 2012).
  6. Boukhtouche, Fatiha, Mohamed Doulazmi, Florence Frederic, Isaelle Dusart, Bernard Brugg, and Jean Mariani. "tRORα, a Pivotal Nuclear Receptor for Purkinje Neuron Survival and Differentiation: From Development to Ageing." The Cerebellum 5 (2006): 97–104.
  7. Croci, Laura, Seung-Hyuk Chung, Giacamo Massserdotti, Sara Gianola, Antonella Bizzoca, Gianfranco Gennarini, Anna Corradi, Ferdinando Rossi, Richard Hawkes, and G. Giacomo Consalez. "A Key Role for the HLH Transcription Factor EBF2COE2, O/E-3 in Purkinje Neuron Migration and Cerebellar Cortical Topography." Development 113 (2006): 2719–29. http://dev.biologists.org/content/133/14/2719.long (Accessed August 11, 2014).
  8. Dahmane, Naia and Ariel Ruiz I Altaba. "Sonic Hedgehog Regulates the Outgrowth and Patterning of the Cerebellum." Development 126 (1999): 3089–100. http://dev.biologists.org/content/126/14/3089.long (Accessed August 11, 2014).
  9. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, "Purkinje Cell." http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/484088/Purkinje-cell (Accessed September 28, 2012).
  10. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, "Medulla Oblongata." http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/372788/medulla-oblongata (Accessed October 6, 2012).
  11. Fatemi, Seyyed Hossein, Amy R. Halt, George Realmuto, Julie Earle, David A. Kist, Paul Thuras, and Ameila Merz. "Purkinje Cell Size is Reduced in Cerebellum of Patients with Autism." Cellular and Molecular Biology 22 (2002): 171–5.
  12. Gauck, Volker, and Dieter Jaeger. "The Control of Rate and Timing of Spikes in the Deep Cerebellar Nuclei by Inhibition." The Journal of Neuroscience 20 (2000): 3006–16. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/20/8/3006.full (Accessed August 11, 2014).
  13. Gauck, Volker, and Dieter Jaeger. "The Contribution of NMDA and AMPA Conductances to the Control of Spiking in Neurons of the Deep Cerebellar Nuclei." The Journal of Neuroscience 23 (2003): 8109–18. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/23/22/8109.full (Accessed August 11, 2014).
  14. Golgi, Camillo. "On the Structure of the Nerve Cells of the Spinal Ganglia. 1898" Translator Naomi Lipsky Journal of Microscopy 155 (1989): 9–14.
  15. Harashima, Shin-ichi, Yu Wang, Takahiko Horiuchi, Yutaka Seino, Nobuya Inagaki. "Purkinje Cell Protein 4 Positively Regulates Neurite Outgrowth and Neurotransmitter Release." Journal of Neuroscience Research 89 (2011): 1519–30.
  16. Herndon, Robert M. "The Fine Structure of the Purkinje Cell." The Journal of Cell Biology 18 (1963): 167–80. http://jcb.rupress.org/content/18/1/167.full.pdf (Accessed September 28, 2012).
  17. Kruta, Vladislav. "Purkyně (Purkinje), Jan Evangelista." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography 11 (2008): 213–7.
  18. Miyata, Takaki, Yuichi Ono, Mayumi Okamoto, Makoto Masaoka, Akira Sakakibara, Ayano Kawaguchi, Mitsuhiro Hashimito, and Masaharu Ogawa. "Migration, Early Axonogenesis, and Reelin-dependent Layer-forming Behavior of Early/posterior-born Purkinje cells in the Developing Mouse Lateral Cerebellum." Neural Development 5 (2010): 23. http://www.neuraldevelopment.com/content/5/1/23#B6 (Accessed October 6, 2012).
  19. Morales, Daniver and Mary E. Hatten. "Molecular Markers of Neuronal Progenitors in the Embryonic Cerebellar Anlage." The Journal of Neuroscience 26 (2006): 12226–36. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/26/47/12226.long (Accessed August 11, 2014).
  20. Necchi, Daniela, Selene Lomoio, and Elda Scherini. "Axonal Abnormalities in Cerebellar Purkinje Cells of the Ts65Dn Mouse." Brain Research 1238 (2008): 181–8.
  21. Palkovits, Miklós, Peter Magyar, and John Szentáagothai. "Quantitative Histological Analysis of the Cerebellar Cortex in the Cat: II. Cell Numbers and Densities in the Granular Layer." Brain Research 32 (1971): 15–30.
  22. Patterson, Marc. "Niemann-Pick Disease Type C." GeneReviews [Internet] (2000): Update: 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1296/ (Accessed September 28, 2012).
  23. Purkyně, Jan Evangelista. "Neueste Untersuchungen aus der Nerven- und Hirnanatomie." [Recent Studies in the Nerve and Brain Anatomy.] Bericht über die Versammlung deutscher Naturforscher und Aertze in Prague [Report on the meeting of German Natural Scientists and Physicians in Prague] (1837): 177–80.
  24. Ramón y Cajal, Santiago. Estudios sobre la degeneración y regeneración del sistema nerviosa [Studies on the Degeneration and Regeneration of the Nervous System]. Madrid, Spain: Imprenta de Hijos de Nicolás Moya, 1913.
  25. Roberts, Eugene. "Gamma-aminobutyric acid." Scholarpedia 2 (2007): 3356. http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Gamma-aminobutyric_acid? (Accessed September 28, 2012).
  26. Rossi, Ferdinando, and Filipo Tempia. "Unravelling the Purkinje Neuron." The Cerebellum 5 (2006): 75–6.
  27. Tsutsui, Kazuyoshi. "Neurosteroid Biosynthesis and Action during Cerebellar Development." Cerebellum 11 (2012): 414–5.
  28. Wade, Nicholas J., Josef Brožek, and Jiri Hoskovec. Purkinje´s Vision: The Dawning of Neuroscience. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.
  29. Witter, Laurens, Chris I. De Zeeuw, Tom J. H. Ruigrok, Freek E. Hoebeek. "The Cerebellar Nuclei Take Center Stage." The Cerebellum 10 (2011): 633–6.
  30. Yuasa, Shoushei, Katsumi Kawamuri, Katsuhiko Ono, Tohru Yamakumi and Yasuo Takahashi. "Development and Migration of Purkinje cells in the Mouse Cerebellar Primordium." Anatomy and Embryology 184 (1991): 195–212.
  31. Zeeuw, Chris I. De, and Albert S. Berrebi. "Individual Purkinje Cell Axons Terminate on Both Inhibitory and Excitatory Neurons in the Cerebellar and Vestibular Nuclei." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 781 (1996): 607–10.
  32. Zhang, Changzheng, Qingfent Zhu, and Tianmiao Hua. "Aging of Cerebellar Purkinje Cells." Cell and Tissue Research 341 (2010): 341–7.
  33. Zito, Karen, and Venkatesh N. Murthy. "Dendritic Spines." Current Biology 12 (2002): R5. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982201006364 (Accessed August 11, 2014).

How to cite

Minai, Mandana, "Purkinje Cells". Embryo Project Encyclopedia (2014-08-12). ISSN: 1940-5030 http://embryo.asu.edu/handle/10776/8144.

Show full item record


Arizona State University. School of Life Sciences. Center for Biology and Society. Embryo Project Encyclopedia.


Copyright Arizona Board of Regents Licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

Last modified

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - 17:17




Purkinje cells; Cerebellar Cortex; Cerebellum; Brain Stem; Purkinje cells; Purkyn_, Jan Evangelista, 1787-1869; Purkyn_, Jan Evangelista, 1787-1869. Works. 1918; Concept