Active dendrites, potassium channels and synaptic plasticity

Daniel Johnston, Brian R. Christie, Andreas Frick, Richard Gray, Dax A. Hoffman, Lalania K. Schexnayder, Shigeo Watanabe, Li-Lian Yuan


The dendrites of CA1 pyramidal neurons in the hippocampus express numerous types of voltage-gated ion channel, but the distributions or densities of many of these channels are very non-uniform. Sodium channels in the dendrites are responsible for action potential (AP) propagation from the axon into the dendrites (back-propagation); calcium channels are responsible for local changes in dendritic calcium concentrations following back-propagating APs and synaptic potentials; and potassium channels help regulate overall dendritic excitability. Several lines of evidence are presented here to suggest that back-propagating APs, when coincident with excitatory synaptic input, can lead to the induction of either long-term depression (LTD) or long-term potentiation (LTP). The induction of LTD or LTP is correlated with the magnitude of the rise in intracellular calcium. When brief bursts of synaptic potentials are paired with postsynaptic APs in a theta-burst pairing paradigm, the induction of LTP is dependent on the invasion of the AP into the dendritic tree. The amplitude of the AP in the dendrites is dependent, in part, on the activity of a transient, A-type potassium channel that is expressed at high density in the dendrites and correlates with the induction of the LTP. Furthermore, during the expression phase of the LTP, there are local changes in dendritic excitability that may result from modulation of the functioning of this transient potassium channel. The results support the view that the active properties of dendrites play important roles in synaptic integration and synaptic plasticity of these neurons.