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Biophysics of ComputationInformation Processing in Single Neurons$
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Christof Koch

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780195104912

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195104912.001.0001

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Synaptic Interactions In A Passive Dendritic Tree

Synaptic Interactions In A Passive Dendritic Tree

(p.117) 5 Synaptic Interactions In A Passive Dendritic Tree
Biophysics of Computation

Christof Koch

Oxford University Press

Nerve cells are the targets of many thousands of excitatory and inhibitory synapses. An extreme case are the Purkinje cells in the primate cerebellum, which receive between one and two hundred thousand synapses onto dendritic spines from an equal number of parallel fibers (Braitenberg and Atwood, 1958; Llinas and Walton, 1998). In fact, this structure has a crystalline-like quality to it, with each parallel fiber making exactly one synapse onto a spine of a Purkinje cell. For neocortical pyramidal cells, the total number of afferent synapses is about an order of magnitude lower (Larkman, 1991). These numbers need to be compared against the connectivity in the central processing unit (CPU) of modern computers, where the gate of a typical transistor usually receives input from one, two, or three other transistors or connects to one, two, or three other transistor gates. The large number of synapses converging onto a single cell provide the nervous system with a rich substratum for implementing a very large class of linear and nonlinear neuronal operations. As we discussed in the introductory chapter, it is only these latter ones, such as multiplication or a threshold operation, which are responsible for “computing” in the nontrivial sense of information processing. It therefore becomes crucial to study the nature of the interaction among two or more synaptic inputs located in the dendritic tree. Here, we restrict ourselves to passive dendritic trees, that is, to dendrites that do not contain voltage-dependent membrane conductances. While such an assumption seemed reasonable 20 or even 10 years ago, we now know that the dendritic trees of many, if not most, cells contain significant nonlinearities, including the ability to generate fast or slow all-or-none electrical events, so-called dendritic spikes. Indeed, truly passive dendrites may be the exception rather than the rule in the nervous In Sec. 1.5, we studied this interaction for the membrane patch model. With the addition of the dendritic tree, the nervous system has many more degrees of freedom to make use of, and the strength of the interaction depends on the relative spatial positioning, as we will see now. That this can be put to good use by the nervous system is shown by the following experimental observation and simple model.

Keywords:   Absolute synaptic suppression, Cable equation, Dendritic spikes, Excitation, Glutamate, Inhibition, Local delay, Motion detection systems, Pattern discrimination

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