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Bioessays. 2007 Feb;29(2):178-87.

Coding with spike shapes and graded potentials in cortical networks.

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Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.


In cortical neurones, analogue dendritic potentials are thought to be encoded into patterns of digital spikes. According to this view, neuronal codes and computations are based on the temporal patterns of spikes: spike times, bursts or spike rates. Recently, we proposed an 'action potential waveform code' for cortical pyramidal neurones in which the spike shape carries information. Broader somatic action potentials are reliably produced in response to higher conductance input, allowing for four times more information transfer than spike times alone. This information is preserved during synaptic integration in a single neurone, as back-propagating action potentials of diverse shapes differentially shunt incoming postsynaptic potentials and so participate in the next round of spike generation. An open question has been whether the information in action potential waveforms can also survive axonal conduction and directly influence synaptic transmission to neighbouring neurones. Several new findings have now brought new light to this subject, showing cortical information processing that transcends the classical models.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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