Electrical match between initial segment and somatodendritic compartment for action potential backpropagation in retinal ganglion cells

J Neurophysiol. 2021 Jul 1;126(1):28-46. doi: 10.1152/jn.00005.2021. Epub 2021 May 26.


The action potential of most vertebrate neurons initiates in the axon initial segment (AIS) and is then transmitted to the soma where it is regenerated by somatodendritic sodium channels. For successful transmission, the AIS must produce a strong axial current, so as to depolarize the soma to the threshold for somatic regeneration. Theoretically, this axial current depends on AIS geometry and Na+ conductance density. We measured the axial current of mouse retinal ganglion cells using whole cell recordings with post hoc AIS labeling. We found that this current is large, implying high Na+ conductance density, and carries a charge that covaries with capacitance so as to depolarize the soma by ∼30 mV. Additionally, we observed that the axial current attenuates strongly with depolarization, consistent with sodium channel inactivation, but temporally broadens so as to preserve the transmitted charge. Thus, the AIS appears to be organized so as to reliably backpropagate the axonal action potential.NEW & NOTEWORTHY We measured the axial current produced at spike initiation by the axon initial segment of mouse retinal ganglion cells. We found that it is a large current, requiring high sodium channel conductance density, which covaries with cell capacitance so as to ensure a ∼30 mV depolarization. During sustained depolarization the current attenuated, but it broadened to preserve somatic depolarization. Thus, properties of the initial segment are adjusted to ensure backpropagation of the axonal action potential.

Keywords: action potential; axon initial segment; biophysical modeling; excitability; spike initiation.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Cell Body / physiology*
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*
  • Sodium Channels / physiology


  • Sodium Channels