Space-clamp problems when voltage clamping neurons expressing voltage-gated conductances

J Neurophysiol. 2008 Mar;99(3):1127-36. doi: 10.1152/jn.01232.2007. Epub 2008 Jan 9.


The voltage-clamp technique is applicable only to spherical cells. In nonspherical cells, such as neurons, the membrane potential is not clamped distal to the voltage-clamp electrode. This means that the current recorded by the voltage-clamp electrode is the sum of the local current and of axial currents from locations experiencing different membrane potentials. Furthermore, voltage-gated currents recorded from a nonspherical cell are, by definition, severely distorted due to the lack of space clamp. Justifications for voltage clamping in nonspherical cells are, first, that the lack of space clamp is not severe in neurons with short dendrites. Second, passive cable theory may be invoked to justify application of voltage clamp to branching neurons, suggesting that the potential decay is sufficiently shallow to allow spatial clamping of the neuron. Here, using numerical simulations, we show that the distortions of voltage-gated K(+) and Ca(2+) currents are substantial even in neurons with short dendrites. The simulations also demonstrate that passive cable theory cannot be used to justify voltage clamping of neurons due to significant shunting to the reversal potential of the voltage-gated conductance during channel activation. Some of the predictions made by the simulations were verified using somatic and dendritic voltage-clamp experiments in rat somatosensory cortex. Our results demonstrate that voltage-gated K(+) and Ca(2+) currents recorded from branching neurons are almost always severely distorted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / physiology
  • Axons / radiation effects
  • Computer Simulation
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology*
  • Membrane Potentials / radiation effects
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Conduction / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurons / radiation effects
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques* / methods
  • Potassium Channel Blockers / pharmacology
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology
  • Tetraethylammonium / pharmacology


  • Potassium Channel Blockers
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated
  • Tetraethylammonium