Linking macroscopic with microscopic neuroanatomy using synthetic neuronal populations

PLoS Comput Biol. 2014 Oct 23;10(10):e1003921. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003921. eCollection 2014 Oct.


Dendritic morphology has been shown to have a dramatic impact on neuronal function. However, population features such as the inherent variability in dendritic morphology between cells belonging to the same neuronal type are often overlooked when studying computation in neural networks. While detailed models for morphology and electrophysiology exist for many types of single neurons, the role of detailed single cell morphology in the population has not been studied quantitatively or computationally. Here we use the structural context of the neural tissue in which dendritic trees exist to drive their generation in silico. We synthesize the entire population of dentate gyrus granule cells, the most numerous cell type in the hippocampus, by growing their dendritic trees within their characteristic dendritic fields bounded by the realistic structural context of (1) the granule cell layer that contains all somata and (2) the molecular layer that contains the dendritic forest. This process enables branching statistics to be linked to larger scale neuroanatomical features. We find large differences in dendritic total length and individual path length measures as a function of location in the dentate gyrus and of somatic depth in the granule cell layer. We also predict the number of unique granule cell dendrites invading a given volume in the molecular layer. This work enables the complete population-level study of morphological properties and provides a framework to develop complex and realistic neural network models.

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

  • Animals
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Dentate Gyrus / cytology
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neuroanatomy / methods*
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Rats