Send to

Choose Destination
Front Physiol. 2012 Aug 24;3:334. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00334. eCollection 2012.

Extrasynaptic glutamate receptor activation as cellular bases for dynamic range compression in pyramidal neurons.

Author information

Department of Neuroscience, University of Connecticut Health Center Farmington, CT, USA.


Repetitive synaptic stimulation overcomes the ability of astrocytic processes to clear glutamate from the extracellular space, allowing some dendritic segments to become submerged in a pool of glutamate, for a brief period of time. This dynamic arrangement activates extrasynaptic NMDA receptors located on dendritic shafts. We used voltage-sensitive and calcium-sensitive dyes to probe dendritic function in this glutamate-rich location. An excess of glutamate in the extrasynaptic space was achieved either by repetitive synaptic stimulation or by glutamate iontophoresis onto the dendrites of pyramidal neurons. Two successive activations of synaptic inputs produced a typical NMDA spike, whereas five successive synaptic inputs produced characteristic plateau potentials, reminiscent of cortical UP states. While NMDA spikes were coupled with brief calcium transients highly restricted to the glutamate input site, the dendritic plateau potentials were accompanied by calcium influx along the entire dendritic branch. Once initiated, the glutamate-mediated dendritic plateau potentials could not be interrupted by negative voltage pulses. Activation of extrasynaptic NMDA receptors in cellular compartments void of spines is sufficient to initiate and support plateau potentials. The only requirement for sustained depolarizing events is a surplus of free glutamate near a group of extrasynaptic receptors. Highly non-linear dendritic spikes (plateau potentials) are summed in a highly sublinear fashion at the soma, revealing the cellular bases of signal compression in cortical circuits. Extrasynaptic NMDA receptors provide pyramidal neurons with a function analogous to a dynamic range compression in audio engineering. They limit or reduce the volume of "loud sounds" (i.e., strong glutamatergic inputs) and amplify "quiet sounds" (i.e., glutamatergic inputs that barely cross the dendritic threshold for local spike initiation). Our data also explain why consecutive cortical UP states have uniform amplitudes in a given neuron.


dendritic spike; prefrontal cortex; pyramidal neuron; synaptic integration; voltage-sensitive dye

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Frontiers Media SA Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center