Synaptic integration in an excitable dendritic tree

J Neurophysiol. 1993 Sep;70(3):1086-101. doi: 10.1152/jn.1993.70.3.1086.


1. Compartmental modeling experiments were carried out in an anatomically characterized neocortical pyramidal cell to study the integrative behavior of a complex dendritic tree containing active membrane mechanisms. Building on a previously presented hypothesis, this work provides further support for a novel principle of dendritic information processing that could underlie a capacity for nonlinear pattern discrimination and/or sensory processing within the dendritic trees of individual nerve cells. 2. It was previously demonstrated that when excitatory synaptic input to a pyramidal cell is dominated by voltage-dependent N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-type channels, the cell responds more strongly when synaptic drive is concentrated within several dendritic regions than when it is delivered diffusely across the dendritic arbor. This effect, called dendritic "cluster sensitivity," persisted under wide-ranging parameter variations and directly implicated the spatial ordering of afferent synaptic connections onto the dendritic tree as an important determinant of neuronal response selectivity. 3. In this work, the sensitivity of neocortical dendrites to spatially clustered synaptic drive has been further studied with fast sodium and slow calcium spiking mechanisms present in the dendritic membrane. Several spatial distributions of the dendritic spiking mechanisms were tested with and without NMDA synapses. Results of numerous simulations reveal that dendritic cluster sensitivity is a highly robust phenomenon in dendrites containing a sufficiency of excitatory membrane mechanisms and is only weakly dependent on their detailed spatial distribution, peak conductances, or kinetics. Factors that either work against or make irrelevant the dendritic cluster sensitivity effect include 1) very high-resistance spine necks, 2) very large synaptic conductances, 3) very high baseline levels of synaptic activity, and 4) large fluctuations in level of synaptic activity on short time scales. 4. The functional significance of dendritic cluster sensitivity has been previously discussed in the context of associative learning and memory. Here it is demonstrated that the dendritic tree of a cluster-sensitive neuron implements an approximative spatial correlation, or sum of products operation, such as that which could underlie nonlinear disparity tuning in binocular visual neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • N-Methylaspartate / physiology
  • Neural Networks, Computer*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*


  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • N-Methylaspartate