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Dendritic organization of sensory input to cortical neurons in vivo

Abstract

In sensory cortex regions, neurons are tuned to specific stimulus features. For example, in the visual cortex, many neurons fire predominantly in response to moving objects of a preferred orientation. However, the characteristics of the synaptic input that cortical neurons receive to generate their output firing pattern remain unclear. Here we report a novel approach for the visualization and functional mapping of sensory inputs to the dendrites of cortical neurons in vivo. By combining high-speed two-photon imaging with electrophysiological recordings, we identify local subthreshold calcium signals that correspond to orientation-specific synaptic inputs. We find that even inputs that share the same orientation preference are widely distributed throughout the dendritic tree. At the same time, inputs of different orientation preference are interspersed, so that adjacent dendritic segments are tuned to distinct orientations. Thus, orientation-tuned neurons can compute their characteristic firing pattern by integrating spatially distributed synaptic inputs coding for multiple stimulus orientations.

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Figure 1: Visually evoked action potentials, subthreshold depolarizations and global dendritic calcium signals.
Figure 2: Subthreshold local dendritic calcium signals evoked by drifting grating stimulation.
Figure 3: Heterogeneity and distribution pattern of orientation-tuned dendritic hotspots.
Figure 4: Spatial arrangement of dendritic hotspots and input–output relation.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to B. Sakmann for discussions and to Y. Kovalchuk for help in the initial experiments. This work was supported by grants from the DFG (to A.K.) and the Friedrich Schiedel Foundation. A.K. is a Carl von Linde Senior Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study of the TUM. H.J., N.L.R. and X.C. were supported by the DFG (IRTG 1373).

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H.J., N.L.R. and X.C. carried out the experiments. H.J., N.L.R. and A.K. performed the analysis. A.K. designed the study and wrote the manuscript with the help of all authors.

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Correspondence to Arthur Konnerth.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Jia, H., Rochefort, N., Chen, X. et al. Dendritic organization of sensory input to cortical neurons in vivo. Nature 464, 1307–1312 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08947

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