Active properties of neocortical pyramidal neuron dendrites

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2013 Jul 8;36:1-24. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-062111-150343.


Dendrites are the main recipients of synaptic inputs and are important sites that determine neurons' input-output functions. This review focuses on thin neocortical dendrites, which receive the vast majority of synaptic inputs in cortex but also have specialized electrogenic properties. We present a simplified working-model biophysical scheme of pyramidal neurons that attempts to capture the essence of their dendritic function, including the ability to behave under plausible conditions as dynamic computational subunits. We emphasize the electrogenic capabilities of NMDA receptors (NMDARs) because these transmitter-gated channels seem to provide the major nonlinear depolarizing drive in thin dendrites, even allowing full-blown NMDA spikes. We show how apparent discrepancies in experimental findings can be reconciled and discuss the current status of dendritic spikes in vivo; a dominant NMDAR contribution would indicate that the input-output relations of thin dendrites are dynamically set by network activity and cannot be fully predicted by purely reductionist approaches.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Neocortex / cytology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / cytology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism


  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate