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Front Comput Neurosci. 2010 Oct 20;4:135. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2010.00135. eCollection 2010.

Measuring neuronal branching patterns using model-based approach.

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Department of Neuroscience, Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge Lethbridge, AB, Canada.


Neurons have complex branching systems which allow them to communicate with thousands of other neurons. Thus understanding neuronal geometry is clearly important for determining connectivity within the network and how this shapes neuronal function. One of the difficulties in uncovering relationships between neuronal shape and its function is the problem of quantifying complex neuronal geometry. Even by using multiple measures such as: dendritic length, distribution of segments, direction of branches, etc, a description of three dimensional neuronal embedding remains incomplete. To help alleviate this problem, here we propose a new measure, a shape diffusiveness index (SDI), to quantify spatial relations between branches at the local and global scale. It was shown that growth of neuronal trees can be modeled by using diffusion limited aggregation (DLA) process. By measuring "how easy" it is to reproduce the analyzed shape by using the DLA algorithm it can be measured how "diffusive" is that shape. Intuitively, "diffusiveness" measures how tree-like is a given shape. For example shapes like an oak tree will have high values of SDI. This measure is capturing an important feature of dendritic tree geometry, which is difficult to assess with other measures. This approach also presents a paradigm shift from well-defined deterministic measures to model-based measures, which estimate how well a model with specific properties can account for features of analyzed shape.


branching; diffusion limited aggregation; neuronal growth model

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