Human Cortical Pyramidal Neurons: From Spines to Spikes via Models

Front Cell Neurosci. 2018 Jun 29;12:181. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2018.00181. eCollection 2018.


We present detailed models of pyramidal cells from human neocortex, including models on their excitatory synapses, dendritic spines, dendritic NMDA- and somatic/axonal Na+ spikes that provided new insights into signal processing and computational capabilities of these principal cells. Six human layer 2 and layer 3 pyramidal cells (HL2/L3 PCs) were modeled, integrating detailed anatomical and physiological data from both fresh and postmortem tissues from human temporal cortex. The models predicted particularly large AMPA- and NMDA-conductances per synaptic contact (0.88 and 1.31 nS, respectively) and a steep dependence of the NMDA-conductance on voltage. These estimates were based on intracellular recordings from synaptically-connected HL2/L3 pairs, combined with extra-cellular current injections and use of synaptic blockers, and the assumption of five contacts per synaptic connection. A large dataset of high-resolution reconstructed HL2/L3 dendritic spines provided estimates for the EPSPs at the spine head (12.7 ± 4.6 mV), spine base (9.7 ± 5.0 mV), and soma (0.3 ± 0.1 mV), and for the spine neck resistance (50-80 MΩ). Matching the shape and firing pattern of experimental somatic Na+-spikes provided estimates for the density of the somatic/axonal excitable membrane ion channels, predicting that 134 ± 28 simultaneously activated HL2/L3-HL2/L3 synapses are required for generating (with 50% probability) a somatic Na+ spike. Dendritic NMDA spikes were triggered in the model when 20 ± 10 excitatory spinous synapses were simultaneously activated on individual dendritic branches. The particularly large number of basal dendrites in HL2/L3 PCs and the distinctive cable elongation of their terminals imply that ~25 NMDA-spikes could be generated independently and simultaneously in these cells, as compared to ~14 in L2/3 PCs from the rat somatosensory cortex. These multi-sites non-linear signals, together with the large (~30,000) excitatory synapses/cell, equip human L2/L3 PCs with enhanced computational capabilities. Our study provides the most comprehensive model of any human neuron to-date demonstrating the biophysical and computational distinctiveness of human cortical neurons.

Keywords: compartmental modeling; cortical excitatory synapses; dendritic spines; human pyramidal cells; multi objective optimization; neuron computation; non-linear dendrites.