Properties of basal dendrites of layer 5 pyramidal neurons: a direct patch-clamp recording study


Basal dendrites receive the majority of synapses that contact neocortical pyramidal neurons, yet our knowledge of synaptic processing in these dendrites has been hampered by their inaccessibility for electrical recordings. A new approach to patch-clamp recordings enabled us to characterize the integrative properties of these cells. Despite the short physical length of rat basal dendrites, synaptic inputs were electrotonically remote from the soma (>30-fold excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) attenuation) and back-propagating action potentials were significantly attenuated. Unitary EPSPs were location dependent, reaching large amplitudes distally (>8 mV), yet their somatic contribution was relatively location independent. Basal dendrites support sodium and NMDA spikes, but not calcium spikes, for 75% of their length. This suggests that basal dendrites, despite their proximity to the site of action potential initiation, do not form a single basal-somatic region but rather should be considered as a separate integrative compartment favoring two integration modes: subthreshold, location-independent summation versus local amplification of incoming spatiotemporally clustered information.

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Figure 1: Attenuation of BAPs from soma to basal dendrites.
Figure 2: Measurement of unitary EPSPs and their attenuation in basal dendrites.
Figure 3: Steady-state current injection.
Figure 4: Location dependence of EPSP amplitudes in basal dendrites.
Figure 5: Local sodium spikes in basal dendrites.
Figure 6: Compartmental modeling of BAPs and dendritic sodium spikes in basal dendrites of layer 5 pyramidal neurons.
Figure 7: NMDA spikes in basal dendrites are less attenuated than subthreshold EPSPs.


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We thank B. Mel, G. Major and H.R. Lüscher for their helpful comments on the manuscript and I. Segev for helpful discussions. We also thank B. Sakmann at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg for his generous supply of equipment and essential support and guidance. We thank K. Fischer for Neurolucida reconstructions of the biocytin-filled neurons and M. Kaiser for excellent technical assistance. This study was supported by the US National Institutes of Health, Israeli Science Foundation and the Rappaport Foundation (J.S.) and by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Grant Nr. PP00A-102721/1 (M.E.L.).

Author information




T.N., M.E.L. and J.S. designed and conducted the experiments and wrote the manuscript. T.N., M.E.L., A.P. and J.S. analyzed the data. A.P. and J.S. performed the computer simulations.

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Correspondence to Jackie Schiller.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Fig. 1

The effect of dendritic depolarization on BAP propagation to basal dendrites. (PDF 350 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 2

The effect of KA and KDR channel blockers on the BAPs in basal dendrites. (PDF 169 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 3

Forward and backward attenuation in basal and apical dendrites of L5 pyramidal neurons. (PDF 122 kb)

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Nevian, T., Larkum, M., Polsky, A. et al. Properties of basal dendrites of layer 5 pyramidal neurons: a direct patch-clamp recording study. Nat Neurosci 10, 206–214 (2007).

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