Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract In a simulated neuron with a dendritic tree, the relative effects of active and passive dendritic membranes on transfer properties were studied. The simulations were performed by means of a digital computer. The computations calculated the changes in transmembrane voltages of many compartments over time as a function of other biophysical variables. These variables were synaptic input intensity, critical firing threshold, rate of leakage of current across the membrane, and rate of longitudinal current spread between compartments. For both passive and active dendrites, the transfer properties of the soma studied for different rates of longitudinal current spread. With low rates of current spread, graded changes in firing threshold produced correspondingly graded changes in output discharge. With high rates of current spread, the neuron became a bistable operator where spiking was enhanced if the threshold was below a certain level and suppressed if the threshold was above that level. Since alterations in firing threshold were shown to have the same effect on firing rate as alterations in synaptic input intensity, the neuron can be said to change from graded to contrast-enhancing in its response to stimuli of different intensities. The presence or absence of dendritic spiking was found to have a significant effect on the integrative properties of the simulated neuron. In particular, contrast enhancement was considerably more pronounced in neurons with passive than with active dendrites in that somatic spike rates reached a higher maximum when dendrites were passive. With active dendrites, a less intense input was needed to initiate somatic spiking than with passive dendrites because a distal dendritic spike could easily propagate by means of longitudinal current spread to the soma. Once somatic spiking was initiated, though, spike rates tended to be lower with active than with passive dendrites because the soma recovered more slowly from its post-spike refractory period if it was also influenced by refractory periods in the dendrites. The experiment of comparing neurons with active and passive dendrites was repeated at a different, higher value of synaptic input. The same differences in transfer properties between the active and passive cases emerged as before. Spiking patterns in neurons with active dendrites were also affected by the time distribution of synaptic inputs. In a previous study, inputs had been random over both space and time, varying about a predetermined mean, whereas in the present study, inputs were random over space but uniform over time. When inputs were made uniform over time, spiking became more difficult to initiate and the transition from graded to bistable response became less sharp.
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