Dendritic coding of multiple sensory inputs in single cortical neurons in vivo

PNAS, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1112355108, published on 29.08.2011
PNAS, online article
Single cortical neurons in the mammalian brain receive signals arising from multiple sensory input channels. Dendritic integration of these afferent signals is critical in determining the amplitude and time course of the neurons’ output signals. As of yet, little is known about the spatial and temporal organization of converging sensory inputs. Here, we combined in vivo two-photon imaging with whole-cell recordings in layer 2 neurons of the mouse vibrissal cortex as a means to analyze the spatial pattern of subthreshold dendritic calcium signals evoked by the stimulation of different whiskers. We show that the principle whisker and the surrounding whiskers can evoke dendritic calcium transients in the same neuron Distance-dependent attenuation of dendritic calcium transients and the corresponding subthreshold depolarization suggest feed-forward activation. We found that stimulation of different whiskers produced multiple calcium hotspots on the same dendrite. Individual hotspots were activated with low probability in a stochastic manner. We show that these hotspots are generated by calcium signals arising in dendritic spines. Some spines were activated uniquely by singlewhiskers, butmany spineswere activated bymultiple whiskers. These shared spines indicate the existence of presynaptic feeder neurons that integrate and transmit activity arising frommultiple whiskers. Despite the dendritic overlap of whisker-specific and shared inputs, different whiskers are represented by a unique set of activation patterns within the dendritic field of each neuron.

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