Synaptic Integration in Tuft Dendrites of Layer 5 Pyramidal Neurons: A New Unifying Principle

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Science  07 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5941, pp. 756-760
DOI: 10.1126/science.1171958

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Fine Dendrites Fire Differently

The pyramidal neuron is the basic computational unit in the brain cortex. Its distal tuft dendrite is heavily innervated by horizontal fibers coursing through cortical layer-I providing long-range corticocortical and thalamocortical associational input. Larkum et al. (p. 756) investigated whether the apical tuft dendrites of layer-5 neocortical pyramidal neurons, like basal dendrites, generate n-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) spikes using two-photon–guided direct dendritic recording, glutamate uncaging, and modeling. NMDA spikes could be evoked in the distal tuft dendrites, while Ca2+ spikes could be triggered at the bifurcation points. Block of the hyperpolarization-activated current enhanced these NMDA spikes. Thus, the generation of NMDA spikes is a general principle of thin, basal, and tuft dendrites.


Tuft dendrites are the main target for feedback inputs innervating neocortical layer 5 pyramidal neurons, but their properties remain obscure. We report the existence of N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) spikes in the fine distal tuft dendrites that otherwise did not support the initiation of calcium spikes. Both direct measurements and computer simulations showed that NMDA spikes are the dominant mechanism by which distal synaptic input leads to firing of the neuron and provide the substrate for complex parallel processing of top-down input arriving at the tuft. These data lead to a new unifying view of integration in pyramidal neurons in which all fine dendrites, basal and tuft, integrate inputs locally through the recruitment of NMDA receptor channels relative to the fixed apical calcium and axosomatic sodium integration points.

  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

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