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Keywords:

  • distal dendritic segments;
  • imaging;
  • prefrontal cortex;
  • rat;
  • voltage-sensitive dyes

Abstract

Basal dendrites of neocortical pyramidal neurons are relatively short and directly attached to the cell body. This allows electrical signals arising in basal dendrites to strongly influence the neuronal output. Likewise, somatic action potentials (APs) should readily propagate back into the basilar dendritic tree to influence synaptic plasticity. Two recent studies, however, determined that sodium APs are severely attenuated in basal dendrites of cortical pyramidal cells, so that they completely fail in distal dendritic segments. Here we used the latest improvements in the voltage-sensitive dye imaging technique (Zhou et al., 2007) to study AP backpropagation in basal dendrites of layer 5 pyramidal neurons of the rat prefrontal cortex. With a signal-to-noise ratio of > 15 and minimal temporal averaging (only four sweeps) we were able to sample AP waveforms from the very last segments of individual dendritic branches (dendritic tips). We found that in short- (< 150 µm) and medium (150–200 µm in length)-range basal dendrites APs backpropagated with modest changes in AP half-width or AP rise-time. The lack of substantial changes in AP shape and dynamics of rise is inconsistent with the AP-failure model. The lack of substantial amplitude boosting of the third AP in the high-frequency burst also suggests that in short- and medium-range basal dendrites backpropagating APs were not severely attenuated. Our results show that the AP-failure concept does not apply in all basal dendrites of the rat prefrontal cortex. The majority of synaptic contacts in the basilar dendritic tree actually received significant AP-associated electrical and calcium transients.