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EMBO Rep. 2006 Sep;7(9):886-92.

Inside the brain of a neuron.

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  • 1Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, IMBB, Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas, FORTH, Vassilika Vouton PO Box 1583, Heraklion GR71110, Crete, Greece.


For many decades, neurons were considered to be the elementary computational units of the brain and were assumed to summate incoming signals and elicit action potentials only in response to suprathreshold stimuli. Although modelling studies predicted that single neurons constitute a much more powerful computational entity, able to perform an array of nonlinear calculations, this possibility was not explored experimentally until the discovery of active mechanisms in the dendrites of most neuron types. Here, we review several modelling studies that have addressed information processing in single neurons, starting with those characterizing the arithmetic of different dendritic components, to those tackling neuronal integration at the cell body and, finally, those analysing the computational abilities of the axon. We present modelling predictions along with supporting experimental data in an effort to highlight the significant contribution of modelling work to enhancing our understanding of single-neuron arithmetic.

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