In many neuronal types, axon initial segment (AIS) geometry critically influences neuronal excitability. Interestingly, the axon of rat SNc dopaminergic (DA) neurons displays a highly variable location and most often arises from an axon-bearing dendrite (ABD). We combined current-clamp somatic and dendritic recordings, outside-out recordings of dendritic sodium and potassium currents, morphological reconstructions and multicompartment modeling on male and female rat SNc DA neurons to determine cell-to-cell variations in AIS and ABD geometry, and their influence on neuronal output (spontaneous pacemaking frequency, action potential [AP] shape). Both AIS and ABD geometries were found to be highly variable from neuron to neuron. Surprisingly, we found that AP shape and pacemaking frequency were independent of AIS geometry. Modeling realistic morphological and biophysical variations helped us clarify this result: in SNc DA neurons, the complexity of the ABD combined with its excitability predominantly define pacemaking frequency and AP shape, such that large variations in AIS geometry negligibly affect neuronal output and are tolerated.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT In many neuronal types, axon initial segment (AIS) geometry critically influences neuronal excitability. In the current study, we describe large cell-to-cell variations in AIS length or distance from the soma in rat substantia nigra pars compacta dopaminergic neurons. Using neuronal reconstruction and electrophysiological recordings, we show that this morphological variability does not seem to affect their electrophysiological output, as neither action potential properties nor pacemaking frequency is correlated with AIS morphology. Realistic multicompartment modeling suggests that this robustness to AIS variation is mainly explained by the complexity and excitability of the somatodendritic compartment.
Keywords: action potential; axon initial segment; modeling; robustness; sodium channels; variability.
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