The conventional view of dendritic function is that dendrites collect synaptic input and deliver it to the soma. This view has been challenged in recent years by new results demonstrating that dendrites can act as independent processing and signalling units, performing local computations that are then broadcast to the rest of the neuron, or to other neurons via dendritic transmitter and neuromodulator release. Here we describe these findings and discuss the notion that the single dendritic branch may represent a fundamental unit of signalling in the mammalian nervous system. This view proposes that the dendritic branch is a basic organizational unit for integrating synaptic input, implementing synaptic and homeostatic plasticity, and controlling local cellular processes such as protein translation.
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