Most neurons have elaborate dendritic trees that receive tens of thousands of synaptic inputs. Because postsynaptic responses to individual synaptic events are usually small and transient, the integration of many synaptic responses is needed to depolarize most neurons to action potential threshold. Over the past decade, advances in electrical and optical recording techniques have led to new insights into how synaptic responses propagate and interact within dendritic trees. In addition to their passive electrical and morphological properties, dendrites express active conductances that shape individual synaptic responses and influence synaptic integration locally within dendrites. Dendritic voltage-gated Na(+) and Ca(2+) channels support action potential backpropagation into the dendritic tree and local initiation of dendritic spikes, whereas K(+) conductances act to dampen dendritic excitability. While all dendrites investigated to date express active conductances, different neuronal types show specific patterns of dendritic channel expression leading to cell-specific differences in the way synaptic responses are integrated within dendritic trees. This review explores the way active and passive dendritic properties shape synaptic responses in the dendrites of central neurons, and emphasizes their role in synaptic integration.
Copyright 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.