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PLoS Comput Biol. 2017 Jan 9;13(1):e1005237. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005237. eCollection 2017 Jan.

Spikelets in Pyramidal Neurons: Action Potentials Initiated in the Axon Initial Segment That Do Not Activate the Soma.

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Institute for Theoretical Biology, Department of Biology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.
Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin, Berlin, Germany.


Spikelets are small spike-like depolarizations that can be measured in somatic intracellular recordings. Their origin in pyramidal neurons remains controversial. To explain spikelet generation, we propose a novel single-cell mechanism: somato-dendritic input generates action potentials at the axon initial segment that may fail to activate the soma and manifest as somatic spikelets. Using mathematical analysis and numerical simulations of compartmental neuron models, we identified four key factors controlling spikelet generation: (1) difference in firing threshold, (2) impedance mismatch, and (3) electrotonic separation between the soma and the axon initial segment, as well as (4) input amplitude. Because spikelets involve forward propagation of action potentials along the axon while they avoid full depolarization of the somato-dendritic compartments, we conjecture that this mode of operation saves energy and regulates dendritic plasticity while still allowing for a read-out of results of neuronal computations.

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