Simple models show the general advantages of dendrites in coincidence detection

J Neurophysiol. 2007 May;97(5):3449-59. doi: 10.1152/jn.00669.2005. Epub 2006 Aug 16.


Dendrites can influence and improve information processing in single neurons. Here, simple models are used to elucidate mechanisms underlying the dendritic enhancement of coincidence detection. We focus on coincidence-detecting cells in the auditory system, which have bipolar dendrites and show acute sensitivity to interaural time difference (ITD), a critical cue for spatial hearing. A three-compartment model consisting of a single-compartment soma and two single-compartment dendrites is primarily used, although multiple-compartment dendrites are also tested. Two varieties of somata, with and without active ion channels, are studied. Using constant conductance inputs, we show analytically that the somatic response to balanced bilateral inputs is largest, whereas the response monotonically decreases as the input distribution becomes increasingly monolateral. This enhancement is a consequence of the sublinear saturating dendritic voltage response to conductance input and occurs when dendrites are composed of a single compartment or either a finite number or an infinite number (i.e., a cable) of compartments. Longer, thinner dendrites or greater numbers of compartments increase the enhancement of the somatic response to bilateral input. The time-independent dendritic enhancement, moreover, underlies improved coincidence detection of time-varying input. Coincidence sensitivity to a pair of conductance pulses and rate-ITD modulation to low-frequency (400-Hz) periodic inputs increases with dendritic length. These findings are related to the length gradient in the avian system, where low characteristic frequency (CF) cells have long dendrites and high CF cells have short dendrites. We conclude that dendrites fundamentally improve coincidence detection, increasing the computational power of many neurons in the nervous system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology