To spike or not to spike? Mapping dendritic computations in vivo.

2022 Scientific Innovations Award
Adam E. Cohen, Ph.D.
Harvard University

The brain is made of neurons, and neurons convert synaptic inputs to spiking outputs. How does a neuron decide when to spike? Neuronal dendrites often have highly nonlinear responses, which lead to complex relationships between synaptic inputs and the membrane voltage at the neuronal cell body, which ultimately determines whether a neuron spikes. We know little about how these nonlinearities manifest in live animals, or even what conceptual framework to use to describe information processing in neuronal dendrites. This BRF project aims to combine advanced voltage imaging tools with optogenetic stimulation to map the membrane voltage and calcium dynamics throughout the dendritic trees of cortical pyramidal neurons in the brains of awake mice. By combining precisely timed sensory and optogenetic stimuli, we will determine how excitation, inhibition, neuromodulation, and action potentials interact in the dendritic tree. This information will help us understand dendritic computation, will inform models of activity-dependent plasticity, and may serve as a baseline for studies of dendritic dysregulation in nervous system diseases that affect memory, such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

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