Rapid time course of action potentials in spines and remote dendrites of mouse visual cortex neurons

J Physiol. 2010 Apr 1;588(Pt 7):1085-96. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2009.184960. Epub 2010 Feb 15.


Axonally initiated action potentials back-propagate into spiny dendrites of central mammalian neurons and thereby regulate plasticity at excitatory synapses on individual spines as well as linear and supralinear integration of synaptic inputs along dendritic branches. Thus, the electrical behaviour of individual dendritic spines and terminal dendritic branches is critical for the integrative function of nerve cells. The actual dynamics of action potentials in spines and terminal branches, however, are not entirely clear, mostly because electrode recording from such small structures is not feasible. Additionally, the available membrane potential imaging techniques are limited in their sensitivity and require substantial signal averaging for the detection of electrical events at the spatial scale of individual spines. We made a critical improvement in the voltage-sensitive dye imaging technique to achieve multisite recordings of backpropagating action potentials from individual dendritic spines at a high frame rate. With this approach, we obtained direct evidence that in layer 5 pyramidal neurons from the visual cortex of juvenile mice, the rapid time course of somatic action potentials is preserved throughout all cellular compartments, including dendritic spines and terminal branches of basal and apical dendrites. The rapid time course of the action potential in spines may be a critical determinant for the precise regulation of spike timing-dependent synaptic plasticity within a narrow time window.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Voltage-Sensitive Dye Imaging / methods*