Identifying critical regions for spike propagation in axon segments

J Comput Neurosci. 2014 Apr;36(2):141-55. doi: 10.1007/s10827-013-0459-3. Epub 2013 Jul 2.


Morphological reconstructions of axon segments reveal the abundance of geometrical ultrastructures that can dramatically affect the propagation of Action Potentials (AP). Moreover, deformations and swellings in axons resulting from brain traumas are associated to many neural dysfunctions and disorders. Our aim is to develop a computational framework to distinguish between geometrical enlargements that lead to minor changes in propagation from those that result in critical phenomenon such as reflection or blockage of the original traveling spike. We use a few geometrical parameters to model a prototypical shaft enlargement and explore the parameter space characterizing all possible propagation regimes and dynamics in an unmylienated AP model. Contrary to earlier notions that large diameter increases mostly lead to blocking, we demonstrate transmission is stable provided the geometrical changes occur in a slow manner. Our method also identifies a narrow range of parameters leading to a reflection regime. The distinction between these three regimes can be evaluated by a simple function of the geometrical parameters inferred through numerical simulations. We suggest that evaluating this function along axon segments can detect regions most susceptible to (i) transmission failure due to perturbations, (ii) structural plasticity, (iii) critical swellings caused by brain traumas and/or (iv) neurological disorders associated with the break down of spike train propagation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Fourier Analysis
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Numerical Analysis, Computer-Assisted