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Trends Neurosci. 2008 Jun;31(6):309-16. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2008.03.004. Epub 2008 May 9.

Active dendrites: colorful wings of the mysterious butterflies.

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Center for Learning and Memory, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Santiago Ramón y Cajal had referred to neurons as the 'mysterious butterflies of the soul.' Wings of these butterflies--their dendrites--were traditionally considered as passive integrators of synaptic information. Owing to a growing body of experimental evidence, it is now widely accepted that these wings are colorful, endowed with a plethora of active conductances, with each family of these butterflies made of distinct hues and shades. Furthermore, rapidly evolving recent literature also provides direct and indirect demonstrations for activity-dependent plasticity of these active conductances, pointing toward chameleonic adaptability in these hues. These experimental findings firmly establish the immense computational power of a single neuron, and thus constitute a turning point toward the understanding of various aspects of neuronal information processing. In this brief historical perspective, we track important milestones in the chameleonic transmogrification of these mysterious butterflies.

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