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Journal Article

Propagation of action potentials in the dendrites of neurons from rat spinal cord slice cultures


Larkum,  Matthew E.
Cortical Circuits, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Max Planck Society;
Department of Cell Physiology, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Max Planck Society;

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Larkum, M. E., Rioult, M. G., & Lüscher, H. R. (1996). Propagation of action potentials in the dendrites of neurons from rat spinal cord slice cultures. Journal of Neurophysiology, 75(1), 154-170. Retrieved from http://jn.physiology.org/content/75/1/154.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0019-A74A-0
1. We examined the propagation of action potentials in the dendrites of ventrally located presumed motoneurons of organotypic rat spinal cord cultures. Simultaneous patch electrode recordings were made from the dendrites and somata of individual cells. In other experiments we visualized the membrane voltage over all the proximal dendrites simultaneously using a voltage-sensitive dye and an array of photodiodes. Calcium imaging was used to measure the dendritic rise in Ca2+ accompanying the propagating action potentials. 2. Spontaneous and evoked action potentials were recorded using high-resistance patch electrodes with separations of 30-423 microm between the somatic and dendritic electrodes. 3. Action potentials recorded in the dendrites varied considerably in amplitude but were larger than would be expected if the dendrites were to behave as passive cables (sometimes little or no decrement was seen for distances of > 100 microm). Because the amplitude of the action potentials in different dendrites was not a simple function of distance from the soma, we suggest that the conductance responsible for the boosting of the action potential amplitude varied in density from dendrite to dendrite and possibly along each dendrite. 4. The dendritic action potentials were usually smaller and broader and arrived later at the dendritic electrode than at the somatic electrode irrespective of whether stimulation occurred at the dendrite or soma or as a result of spontaneous synaptic activity. This is clear evidence that the action potential is initiated at or near the soma and spreads out into the dendrites. The conduction velocity of the propagating action potential was estimated to be 0.5 m/s. 5. The voltage time courses of previously recorded action potentials were generated at the soma using voltage clamp before and after applying 1 microM tetrodotoxin (TTX) over the soma and dendrites. TTX reduced the amplitude of the action potential at the dendritic electrode to a value in the range expected for dendrites that behave as passive cables. This indicates that the conductance responsible for the actively propagating action potentials is a Na+ conductance. 6. The amplitude of the dendritic action potential could also be initially reduced more than the somatic action potential using 1-10 mM QX-314 (an intracellular sodium channel blocker) in the dendritic electrode as the drug diffused from the dendritic electrode toward the soma. Furthermore, in some cases the action potential elicited by current injection into the dendrite had two components. The first component was blocked by QX-314 in the first few seconds of the diffusion of the blocker. 7. In some cells, an afterdepolarizing potential (ADP) was more prominent in the dendrite than in the soma. This ADP could be reversibly blocked by 1 mM Ni2+ or by perfusion of a nominally Ca2+-free solution over the soma and dendrites. This suggests that the back-propagating action potential caused an influx of Ca2+ predominantly in the dendrites. 8. With the use of a voltage-sensitive dye (di-8-ANEPPS) and an array of photodiodes, the action potential was tracked along all the proximal dendrites simultaneously. The results confirmed that the action potential propagated actively, in contrast to similarly measured hyperpolarizing pulses that spread passively. There were also indications that the action potential was not uniformly propagated in all the dendrites, suggesting the possibility that the distribution of Na+ channels over the dendritic membrane is not uniform. 9. Calcium imaging with the Ca2+ fluorescent indicator Fluo-3 showed a larger percentage change in fluorescence in the dendrites than in the soma. Both bursts and single action potentials elicited sharp rises in fluorescence in the proximal dendrites, suggesting that the back-propagating action potential causes a concomitant rise in intracellular calcium concentration...