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PLoS Comput Biol. 2019 Mar 6;15(3):e1006757. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006757. eCollection 2019 Mar.

Tuft dendrites of pyramidal neurons operate as feedback-modulated functional subunits.

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Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Munich, Germany.
Faculty of Biology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany.


Dendrites of pyramidal cells exhibit complex morphologies and contain a variety of ionic conductances, which generate non-trivial integrative properties. Basal and proximal apical dendrites have been shown to function as independent computational subunits within a two-layer feedforward processing scheme. The outputs of the subunits are linearly summed and passed through a final non-linearity. It is an open question whether this mathematical abstraction can be applied to apical tuft dendrites as well. Using a detailed compartmental model of CA1 pyramidal neurons and a novel theoretical framework based on iso-response methods, we first show that somatic sub-threshold responses to brief synaptic inputs cannot be described by a two-layer feedforward model. Then, we relax the core assumption of subunit independence and introduce non-linear feedback from the output layer to the subunit inputs. We find that additive feedback alone explains the somatic responses to synaptic inputs to most of the branches in the apical tuft. Individual dendritic branches bidirectionally modulate the thresholds of their input-output curves without significantly changing the gains. In contrast to these findings for precisely timed inputs, we show that neuronal computations based on firing rates can be accurately described by purely feedforward two-layer models. Our findings support the view that dendrites of pyramidal neurons possess non-linear analog processing capabilities that critically depend on the location of synaptic inputs. The iso-response framework proposed in this computational study is highly efficient and could be directly applied to biological neurons.

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