Dendrites Do It in Sequences

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Science  24 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5999, pp. 1611-1612
DOI: 10.1126/science.1196743

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Nearly 50 years ago, Wilfrid Rall, one of the founders of computational neuroscience, proposed a mechanism to help answer one of the most basic questions in neuroscience: How do neurons detect, organize, and process the numerous chemical and electrical signals that flow from the thousands of synapses arrayed along their branching fibers (dendrites)? He proposed that the sequence in which synapses activate—specifically, whether the activation moves progressively in, along the branch toward the central cell body (soma); or out, away from the soma—could determine how the soma responds (1). A pattern that moved in one direction, for instance, could cause a neuron to “fire,” or produce an electrical spike, whereas the soma would remain quiet if the pattern of activation moved in the opposite direction.