An Active Role for Dendrites in Cortical Processing

  • Dendrites are the tree-like extensions from neurons that serve as the main location for synapses–the junctions that neurons use to communicate with each other. In the cerebral cortex, dendrites are covered with thousands of small protrusions called spines and each dendritic spine is the site of a different synaptic input.
  • The classical view of dendritic function is that information arriving via the dendritic spines is passively conveyed to the cell body through the dendrites, much like a cable, without changing the information content.
  • Although it has been suggested that dendrites could play a more active role in this process, support for such a role in the functioning brain has been difficult to obtain.
  • Now scientists at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) have provided strong evidence that the arrangement of synaptic connections within the dendritic field supports an active role for dendrites in cortical processing and that these dendritic computations shape how neurons encode visual information.


“Orientation selectivity and the functional clustering of synaptic inputs in primary visual cortex” by Daniel E Wilson, David E Whitney, Benjamin Scholl and David Fitzpatrick in Nature Neuroscience. Published online June 13 2016 doi:10.1038/nn.4323


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