Role of dendritic spines in action potential backpropagation: a numerical simulation study

J Neurophysiol. 2002 Nov;88(5):2834-45. doi: 10.1152/jn.00781.2001.


Two remarkable aspects of pyramidal neurons are their complex dendritic morphologies and the abundant presence of spines, small structures that are the sites of excitatory input. Although the channel properties of the dendritic shaft membrane have been experimentally probed, the influence of spine properties in dendritic signaling and action potential propagation remains unclear. To explore this we have performed multi-compartmental numerical simulations investigating the degree of consistency between experimental data on dendritic channel densities and backpropagation behavior, as well as the necessity and degree of influence of excitable spines. Our results indicate that measured densities of Na(+) channels in dendritic shafts cannot support effective backpropagation observed in apical dendrites due to suprathreshold inactivation. We demonstrate as a potential solution that Na(+) channels in spines at higher densities than those measured in the dendritic shaft can support extensive backpropagation. In addition, clustering of Na(+) channels in spines appears to enhance their effect due to their unique morphology. Finally, we show that changes in spine morphology significantly influence backpropagation efficacy. These results suggest that, by clustering sodium channels, spines may serve to control backpropagation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Computer Simulation
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Kinetics
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Neurological
  • Sodium Channels / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / cytology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology


  • Sodium Channels