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J Comput Neurosci. 2011 Apr;30(2):301-21. doi: 10.1007/s10827-010-0258-z. Epub 2010 Jul 10.

The capabilities and limitations of conductance-based compartmental neuron models with reduced branched or unbranched morphologies and active dendrites.

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Biomedical Engineering Department, Georgia Inst of Tech, 313 Ferst Dr, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA.


Conductance-based neuron models are frequently employed to study the dynamics of biological neural networks. For speed and ease of use, these models are often reduced in morphological complexity. Simplified dendritic branching structures may process inputs differently than full branching structures, however, and could thereby fail to reproduce important aspects of biological neural processing. It is not yet well understood which processing capabilities require detailed branching structures. Therefore, we analyzed the processing capabilities of full or partially branched reduced models. These models were created by collapsing the dendritic tree of a full morphological model of a globus pallidus (GP) neuron while preserving its total surface area and electrotonic length, as well as its passive and active parameters. Dendritic trees were either collapsed into single cables (unbranched models) or the full complement of branch points was preserved (branched models). Both reduction strategies allowed us to compare dynamics between all models using the same channel density settings. Full model responses to somatic inputs were generally preserved by both types of reduced model while dendritic input responses could be more closely preserved by branched than unbranched reduced models. However, features strongly influenced by local dendritic input resistance, such as active dendritic sodium spike generation and propagation, could not be accurately reproduced by any reduced model. Based on our analyses, we suggest that there are intrinsic differences in processing capabilities between unbranched and branched models. We also indicate suitable applications for different levels of reduction, including fast searches of full model parameter space.

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