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Note: Research in this publication was not performed at Janelia.
Under certain conditions, regenerative voltage spikes can be initiated locally in the dendrites of CA1 pyramidal neurons. These are interesting events that could potentially provide neurons with additional computational abilities. Using whole-cell dendritic recordings from the distal apical trunk and proximal tuft regions and realistic computer modeling, we have determined that highly synchronized and moderately clustered inputs are required for dendritic spike initiation: approximately 50 synaptic inputs spread over 100 mum of the apical trunk/tuft need to be activated within 3 msec. Dendritic spikes are characterized by a more depolarized voltage threshold than at the soma [-48 +/- 1 mV (n = 30) vs -56 +/- 1 mV (n = 7), respectively] and are mainly generated and shaped by dendritic Na+ and K+ currents. The relative contribution of AMPA and NMDA currents is also important in determining the actual spatiotemporal requirements for dendritic spike initiation. Once initiated, dendritic spikes can easily reach the soma, but their propagation is only moderately strong, so that it can be modulated by physiologically relevant factors such as changes in the V(m) and the ionic composition of the extracellular solution. With effective spike propagation, an extremely short-latency neuronal output is produced for greatly reduced input levels. Therefore, dendritic spikes function as efficient detectors of specific input patterns, ensuring that the neuronal response to high levels of input synchrony is a precisely timed action potential output.