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Dendritic action potentials and computation in human layer 2/3 cortical neurons

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Science  03 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6473, pp. 83-87
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax6239

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Human dendrites are special

A special developmental program in the human brain drives the disproportionate thickening of cortical layer 2/3. This suggests that the expansion of layer 2/3, along with its numerous neurons and their large dendrites, may contribute to what makes us human. Gidon et al. thus investigated the dendritic physiology of layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons in slices taken from surgically resected brain tissue in epilepsy patients. Dual somatodendritic recordings revealed previously unknown classes of action potentials in the dendrites of these neurons, which make their activity far more complex than has been previously thought. These action potentials allow single neurons to solve two long-standing computational problems in neuroscience that were considered to require multilayer neural networks.

Science, this issue p. 83

Abstract

The active electrical properties of dendrites shape neuronal input and output and are fundamental to brain function. However, our knowledge of active dendrites has been almost entirely acquired from studies of rodents. In this work, we investigated the dendrites of layer 2 and 3 (L2/3) pyramidal neurons of the human cerebral cortex ex vivo. In these neurons, we discovered a class of calcium-mediated dendritic action potentials (dCaAPs) whose waveform and effects on neuronal output have not been previously described. In contrast to typical all-or-none action potentials, dCaAPs were graded; their amplitudes were maximal for threshold-level stimuli but dampened for stronger stimuli. These dCaAPs enabled the dendrites of individual human neocortical pyramidal neurons to classify linearly nonseparable inputs—a computation conventionally thought to require multilayered networks.

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