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Evidence for the role of dendritic spines in the temporal filtering properties of neurons: the decoding problem and beyond.

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  • Research Article
  • Computer Science
  • Mathematics


The question of relations between structure and function acutely applies to the search for the functional role of dendritic spines. While dendritic spines are a prominent and widespread structural feature of neurons in the central nervous system, their function is poorly understood. Because the conducting core of a spine stem can be of extremely small dimensions, a large axial resistance to current flow and "low-pass" filtering of inputs have been hypothesized. Here we show that neurons in the dorsal torus semicircularis of the electric fish Eigenmannia show real-time fluctuations in their transmembrane potential that reflect modulations in the amplitude of a high-frequency sinusoidal carrier signal. In 18 neurons recorded intracellularly and labeled with Lucifer yellow, the decrease in the magnitude of these potentials with increasing rate of amplitude modulation (i.e., low-pass temporal filtering) was positively correlated (r = 0.79, P < 0.001, over a range of one to two octaves in modulation rate) with the mean dendritic spine density (range, 0-0.38 spine per micron of dendritic length) of the cell. The acquisition of synaptic input through dendritic spines may be a general mechanism for achieving the temporal filtering that underlies real-time signal processing in the central nervous system.

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