Initiation of sodium spikelets in basal dendrites of neocortical pyramidal neurons

J Membr Biol. 2005 Nov;208(2):155-69. doi: 10.1007/s00232-005-0827-7.


Cortical information processing relies critically on the processing of electrical signals in pyramidal neurons. Electrical transients mainly arise when excitatory synaptic inputs impinge upon distal dendritic regions. To study the dendritic aspect of synaptic integration one must record electrical signals in distal dendrites. Since thin dendritic branches, such as oblique and basal dendrites, do not support routine glass electrode measurements, we turned our effort towards voltage-sensitive dye recordings. Using the optical imaging approach we found and reported previously that basal dendrites of neocortical pyramidal neurons show an elaborate repertoire of electrical signals, including backpropagating action potentials and glutamate-evoked plateau potentials. Here we report a novel form of electrical signal, qualitatively and quantitatively different from backpropagating action potentials and dendritic plateau potentials. Strong glutamatergic stimulation of an individual basal dendrite is capable of triggering a fast spike, which precedes the dendritic plateau potential. The amplitude of the fast initial spikelet was actually smaller that the amplitude of the backpropagating action potential in the same dendritic segment. Therefore, the fast initial spike was dubbed "spikelet". Both the basal spikelet and plateau potential propagate decrementally towards the cell body, where they are reflected in the somatic whole-cell recordings. The low incidence of basal spikelets in the somatic intracellular recordings and the impact of basal spikelets on soma-axon action potential initiation are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Neocortex / cytology
  • Neocortex / physiology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / cytology
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Sodium / metabolism
  • Synaptic Membranes / physiology*


  • Sodium