Dendritic spikes as a mechanism for cooperative long-term potentiation

Nature. 2002 Jul 18;418(6895):326-31. doi: 10.1038/nature00854.


Strengthening of synaptic connections following coincident pre- and postsynaptic activity was proposed by Hebb as a cellular mechanism for learning. Contemporary models assume that multiple synapses must act cooperatively to induce the postsynaptic activity required for hebbian synaptic plasticity. One mechanism for the implementation of this cooperation is action potential firing, which begins in the axon, but which can influence synaptic potentiation following active backpropagation into dendrites. Backpropagation is limited, however, and action potentials often fail to invade the most distal dendrites. Here we show that long-term potentiation of synapses on the distal dendrites of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons does require cooperative synaptic inputs, but does not require axonal action potential firing and backpropagation. Rather, locally generated and spatially restricted regenerative potentials (dendritic spikes) contribute to the postsynaptic depolarization and calcium entry necessary to trigger potentiation of distal synapses. We find that this mechanism can also function at proximal synapses, suggesting that dendritic spikes participate generally in a form of synaptic potentiation that does not require postsynaptic action potential firing in the axon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials*
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Long-Term Potentiation*
  • Pyramidal Cells / cytology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Theta Rhythm


  • Calcium