Dendritic Discrimination of Temporal Input Sequences in Cortical Neurons

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Science  12 Aug 2010:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1189664


The detection and discrimination of temporal sequences is fundamental to brain function and underlies perception, cognition, and motor output. Applying patterned two-photon glutamate uncaging, we found that single dendrites of cortical pyramidal neurons exhibit sensitivity to the sequence of synaptic activation. This sensitivity is encoded both by local dendritic calcium signals and by somatic depolarization, leading to sequence-selective spike output. The mechanism involves dendritic impedance gradients and nonlinear synaptic NMDA receptor activation and is generalizable to dendrites in different neuronal types. This enables discrimination of patterns delivered to a single dendrite, as well as patterns distributed randomly across the dendritic tree. Pyramidal cell dendrites can thus act as processing compartments for detection of synaptic sequences, implementing a fundamental cortical computation.