We investigate the effects of the stochastic nature of ion channels on the faithfulness, precision and reproducibility of electrical signal transmission in weakly active, dendritic membrane under in vitro conditions. The properties of forward and backpropagating action potentials (BPAPs) in the dendritic tree of pyramidal cells are the subject of intense empirical work and theoretical speculation (Larkum et al., 1999; Zhu, 2000; Larkum et al., 2001; Larkum and Zhu, 2002; Schaefer et al., 2003; Williams, 2004; Waters et al., 2005). We numerically simulate the effects of stochastic ion channels on the forward and backward propagation of dendritic spikes in Monte-Carlo simulations on a reconstructed layer 5 pyramidal neuron. We report that in most instances there is little variation in timing or amplitude for a single BPAP, while variable backpropagation can occur for trains of action potentials. Additionally, we find that the generation and forward propagation of dendritic Ca(2+) spikes are susceptible to channel variability. This indicates limitations on computations that depend on the precise timing of Ca(2+) spikes.
Spike propagation in dendrites with stochastic ion channels
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