Another new neuron type


In a press release (here) about a Neuron Journal paper (see citation below), it was announced that there were neurons in the hippocampus with a newly discovered anatomy, in fact they are common there.

The model of a neuron is that it has a cell body with branches (dendrites) in one area that receive input from other neurons and a long extension (axon) that has branches at its end to output signals to other neurons. The standard picture is that there is a complex summation of synaptic inputs on the dendrite branches and then a summation on the body of the cell of the dendrites which either reaches the threshold for firing or not. If threshold is reached the activity travels down the axon to the synapses with other neurons.

The newly discovered neurons have a bypass, shunt or privileged path. The axon in these cells does not start on the cell body but on a dendrite that is on the axon side of the cell body. Therefore input to this particular dendrite does not have to pass though the cell body but can directly send signals down the axon. This axon can fire if the dendrite it is attached to reaches threshold or if the cell body reaches threshold due to activity on the other dendrites.

A metaphor might be like this. The decision whether or not to fire is taken by small committees with pro and con members, then the results of those committees goes to a higher committee. If that committee decides to fire then firing will happen. On the other hand, the boss and his advisors can just walk in and order fire if they choose.

These pyramid cells in the hippocampus would have an important role in memory. What the function of this arrangement is has not yet been researched.

Here is the abstract:

Neuronal processing is classically conceptualized as dendritic input, somatic integration, and axonal output. The axon initial segment, the proposed site of action potential generation, usually emanates directly from the soma. However, we found that axons of hippocampal pyramidal cells frequently derive from a basal dendrite rather than from the soma. This morphology is particularly enriched in central CA1, the principal hippocampal output area. Multiphoton glutamate uncaging revealed that input onto the axon-carrying dendrites (AcDs) was more efficient in eliciting action potential output than input onto regular basal dendrites. First, synaptic input onto AcDs generates action potentials with lower activation thresholds compared with regular dendrites. Second, AcDs are intrinsically more excitable, generating dendritic spikes with higher probability and greater strength. Thus, axon-carrying dendrites constitute a privileged channel for excitatory synaptic input in a subset of cortical pyramidal cells.

Citation: C. Thome, T. Kelly, A. Yanez, C. Schultz, M. Engelhardt, S. B. Camebridge, M. Both, A. Draguhn, H. Beck and A. V. Egorov (2014): Axon-Carrying Dendrites Convey Privileged Synaptic Input in Hippocampal Neurons. Neuron, 83, 1418-1430.

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