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J Physiol. 2007 Dec 1;585(Pt 2):447-68. Epub 2007 Oct 11.

Voltage and calcium transients in basal dendrites of the rat prefrontal cortex.

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Department Neurobiology, Yale University School of Medicine, 333 Cedar Street, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


Higher cortical functions (perception, cognition, learning and memory) are in large part based on the integration of electrical and calcium signals that takes place in thin dendritic branches of neocortical pyramidal cells (synaptic integration). The mechanisms underlying the synaptic integration in thin basal dendrites are largely unexplored. We use a recently developed technique, multisite voltage-calcium imaging, to compare voltage and calcium transients from multiple locations along individual dendritic branches. Our results reveal characteristic electrical transients (plateau potentials) that trigger and shape dendritic calcium dynamics and calcium distribution during suprathreshold glutamatergic synaptic input. We regularly observed three classes of voltage-calcium interactions occurring simultaneously in three different zones of the same dendritic branch: (1) proximal to the input site, (2) at the input site, and (3) distal to the input site. One hundred micrometers away from the synaptic input site, both proximally and distally, dendritic calcium transients are in tight temporal correlation with the dendritic plateau potential. However, on the same dendrite, at the location of excitatory input, calcium transients outlast local dendritic plateau potentials by severalfold. These Ca2+ plateaus (duration 0.5-2 s) are spatially restricted to the synaptic input site, where they cause a brief down-regulation of dendritic excitability. Ca2+ plateaus are not mediated by Ca2+ release from intracellular stores, but rather by an NMDA-dependent small-amplitude depolarization, which persists after the collapse of the dendritic plateau potential. These unique features of dendritic voltage and calcium distributions may provide distinct zones for simultaneous long-term (bidirectional) modulation of synaptic contacts along the same basal branch.

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