Synaptic integration in dendrites: exceptional need for speed


D. Oertel: Department of Neuroscience, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin, 1300 University Ave, Madison, WI 53706, USA. Email:


Abstract  Some neurons in the mammalian auditory system are able to detect and report the coincident firing of inputs with remarkable temporal precision. A strong, low-voltage-activated potassium conductance (gKL) at the cell body and dendrites gives these neurons sensitivity to the rate of depolarization by EPSPs, allowing neurons to assess the coincidence of the rising slopes of unitary EPSPs. Two groups of neurons in the brain stem, octopus cells in the posteroventral cochlear nucleus and principal cells of the medial superior olive (MSO), extract acoustic information by assessing coincident firing of their inputs over a submillisecond timescale and convey that information at rates of up to 1000 spikes s−1. Octopus cells detect the coincident activation of groups of auditory nerve fibres by broadband transient sounds, compensating for the travelling wave delay by dendritic filtering, while MSO neurons detect coincident activation of similarly tuned neurons from each of the two ears through separate dendritic tufts. Each makes use of filtering that is introduced by the spatial distribution of inputs on dendrites.