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Concept: Neurons


Smooth pursuit adaptation (SPA) is an example of cerebellum-dependent motor learning that depends on the integrity of the oculomotor vermis (OMV). In an attempt to unveil the neuronal basis of the role of the OMV in SPA, we recorded Purkinje cell simple spikes (PC SS) of trained monkeys. Individual PC SS exhibited specific changes of their discharge patterns during the course of SPA. However, these individual changes did not provide a reliable explanation of the behavioral changes. On the other hand, the population response of PC SS perfectly reflected the changes resulting from adaptation. Population vector was calculated using all cells recorded independent of their location. A population code conveying the behavioral changes is in full accordance with the anatomical convergence of PC axons on target neurons in the cerebellar nuclei. Its computational advantage is the ease with which it can be adjusted to the needs of the behavior by changing the contribution of individual PC SS based on error feedback.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Cell nucleus, Action potential, Cerebellum, Dendrite, Neurons, Purkinje cell


Neurons are the computational elements that compose the brain and their fundamental principles of activity are known for decades. According to the long-lasting computational scheme, each neuron sums the incoming electrical signals via its dendrites and when the membrane potential reaches a certain threshold the neuron typically generates a spike to its axon. Here we present three types of experiments, using neuronal cultures, indicating that each neuron functions as a collection of independent threshold units. The neuron is anisotropically activated following the origin of the arriving signals to the membrane, via its dendritic trees. The first type of experiments demonstrates that a single neuron’s spike waveform typically varies as a function of the stimulation location. The second type reveals that spatial summation is absent for extracellular stimulations from different directions. The third type indicates that spatial summation and subtraction are not achieved when combining intra- and extra- cellular stimulations, as well as for nonlocal time interference, where the precise timings of the stimulations are irrelevant. Results call to re-examine neuronal functionalities beyond the traditional framework, and the advanced computational capabilities and dynamical properties of such complex systems.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Action potential, Axon, Synapse, Dendrite, Neurons


The Golgi apparatus lies at the heart of the secretory pathway where it is required for secretory trafficking and cargo modification. Disruption of Golgi architecture and function has been widely observed in neurodegenerative disease, but whether Golgi dysfunction is causal with regard to the neurodegenerative process, or is simply a manifestation of neuronal death, remains unclear. Here we report that targeted loss of the golgin GM130 leads to a profound neurological phenotype in mice. Global KO of mouse GM130 results in developmental delay, severe ataxia, and postnatal death. We further show that selective deletion of GM130 in neurons causes fragmentation and defective positioning of the Golgi apparatus, impaired secretory trafficking, and dendritic atrophy in Purkinje cells. These cellular defects manifest as reduced cerebellar size and Purkinje cell number, leading to ataxia. Purkinje cell loss and ataxia first appear during postnatal development but progressively worsen with age. Our data therefore indicate that targeted disruption of the mammalian Golgi apparatus and secretory traffic results in neuronal degeneration in vivo, supporting the view that Golgi dysfunction can play a causative role in neurodegeneration.

Concepts: Neuron, Golgi apparatus, Cerebellum, Dendrite, Neurons, Purkinje cell, Parallel fiber, Dendritic spine


It is generally believed that fear extinction is a form of new learning that inhibits rather than erases previously acquired fear memories. Although this view has gained much support from behavioural and electrophysiological studies, the hypothesis that extinction causes the partial erasure of fear memories remains viable. Using transcranial two-photon microscopy, we investigated how neural circuits are modified by fear learning and extinction by examining the formation and elimination of postsynaptic dendritic spines of layer-V pyramidal neurons in the mouse frontal association cortex. Here we show that fear conditioning by pairing an auditory cue with a footshock increases the rate of spine elimination. By contrast, fear extinction by repeated presentation of the same auditory cue without a footshock increases the rate of spine formation. The degrees of spine remodelling induced by fear conditioning and extinction strongly correlate with the expression and extinction of conditioned fear responses, respectively. Notably, spine elimination and formation induced by fear conditioning and extinction occur on the same dendritic branches in a cue- and location-specific manner: cue-specific extinction causes formation of dendritic spines within a distance of two micrometres from spines that were eliminated after fear conditioning. Furthermore, reconditioning preferentially induces elimination of dendritic spines that were formed after extinction. Thus, within vastly complex neuronal networks, fear conditioning, extinction and reconditioning lead to opposing changes at the level of individual synapses. These findings also suggest that fear memory traces are partially erased after extinction.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Action potential, Cerebral cortex, Hippocampus, Dendrite, Neurons, Purkinje cell


Experience-dependent structural changes in the developing brain are fundamental for proper neural circuit formation. Here, we show during development of sensory cortex that dendritic field orientation is controlled by the BTB/POZ domain-containing 3 (BTBD3). In developing mouse somatosensory cortex, endogenous Btbd3 translocated to the cell nucleus in response to neuronal activity and oriented primary dendrites toward active axons in the barrel hollow. Btbd3 also directed dendrites toward active axon terminals when ectopically expressed in mouse visual cortex or normally expressed in ferret visual cortex. BTBD3 regulation of dendrite orientation is conserved across species and cortical areas and shows how high-acuity sensory function may be achieved by the tuning of subcellular polarity to sources of high sensory activity.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Cerebral cortex, Axon, Synapse, Dendrite, Neurons


Neuronal activity shapes the dendritic arbour; however, most of the molecular players in this process remain to be identified. We observed that depolarisation-induced neuronal activity causes an increase in the phosphorylation of GSK-3α/β on Ser21/9 in cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs). By using several approaches, including gene knock-down and GSK-3α/βS21A/S21A/S9A/S9A double knockin mice, we demonstrated that both GSK-3β and GSK-3α mediate activity-dependent dendritic growth and that Ser21/9 phosphorylation of GSK-3α/β plays an important role in this process. Collapsin response mediator protein-2 (CRMP-2), which is crucial for axon development, is phosphorylated at Thr514 and inactivated by GSK-3. We found CRMP-2 was located mainly in the dendrites of CGNs, in contrast to the axonal distribution in hippocampal neurons. Overexpression of CRMP-2 promoted and knockdown of CRMP-2 impaired dendritic growth, suggesting that CRMP-2 is necessary and sufficient for activity-dependent dendritic development. Furthermore, silencing CRMP-2 completely blocked the dendritic growth-promoting effects of GSK-3 knockdown, and expression of Thr514 nonphosphorylated form of CRMP-2 counteracted the inhibitory effect of constitutively active GSK-3. This data indicate that CRMP-2 functions downstream of GSK-3. Together, these findings identify a novel GSK-3/CRMP-2 pathway that connects neuronal activity to dendritic growth. © 2013 International Society for Neurochemistry, J. Neurochem. (2013) 10.1111/jnc.12230.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Action potential, Axon, Synapse, Dendrite, Neurons, Purkinje cell


Physical features of sensory stimuli are fixed, but sensory perception is context dependent. The precise mechanisms that govern contextual modulation remain unknown. Here, we trained mice to switch between two contexts: passively listening to pure tones and performing a recognition task for the same stimuli. Two-photon imaging showed that many excitatory neurons in auditory cortex were suppressed during behavior, while some cells became more active. Whole-cell recordings showed that excitatory inputs were affected only modestly by context, but inhibition was more sensitive, with PV(+), SOM(+), and VIP(+) interneurons balancing inhibition and disinhibition within the network. Cholinergic modulation was involved in context switching, with cholinergic axons increasing activity during behavior and directly depolarizing inhibitory cells. Network modeling captured these findings, but only when modulation coincidently drove all three interneuron subtypes, ruling out either inhibition or disinhibition alone as sole mechanism for active engagement. Parallel processing of cholinergic modulation by cortical interneurons therefore enables context-dependent behavior.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Action potential, Auditory system, Sense, Neurotransmitter, Neurons


Retinal implants allowing blind people suffering from diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration to regain rudimentary vision are struggling with several obstacles. One of the main problems during external electric stimulation is the co-activation of the ON and OFF pathways which results in mutual impairment. In this study the response of ON and OFF cone retinal bipolar cells during extracellular electric stimulation from the subretinal space was examined. To gain deeper insight into the behavior of these cells sustained L-type and transient T-type calcium channels were integrated in the synaptic terminals of reconstructed 3D morphologies of ON and OFF cone bipolar cells. Intracellular calcium concentration in the synaptic regions of the model neurons was investigated as well since calcium influx is a crucial parameter for cell-to-cell activity between bipolar cells and retinal ganglion cells. It was shown that monophasic stimulation results in significant different calcium concentrations in the synaptic terminals of ON and OFF bipolar cells. Intracellular calcium increased to values up to fourfold higher in the OFF bipolar model neuron in comparison to the ON bipolar cell. Furthermore, geometric properties strongly influence the activation of bipolar cells. Monophasic, biphasic, single and repetitive pulses with similar lengths, amplitudes and polarities were applied to the two model neurons.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Retina, Retinitis pigmentosa, Neurons, Retinal ganglion cell, Bipolar cell of the retina, Bipolar cell


GABA disinhibition within the spinal dorsal horn has been implicated in pain hypersensitivity on injury in different neuropathic models. However, GABA alteration has been explored in only one study on trigeminal neuropathic pain.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Cerebellum, Neurons


Lasting alterations in sensory input trigger massive structural and functional adaptations in cortical networks. The principles governing these experience-dependent changes are, however, poorly understood. Here, we examine whether a simple rule based on the neurons' need for homeostasis in electrical activity may serve as driving force for cortical reorganization. According to this rule, a neuron creates new spines and boutons when its level of electrical activity is below a homeostatic set-point and decreases the number of spines and boutons when its activity exceeds this set-point. In addition, neurons need a minimum level of activity to form spines and boutons. Spine and bouton formation depends solely on the neuron’s own activity level, and synapses are formed by merging spines and boutons independently of activity. Using a novel computational model, we show that this simple growth rule produces neuron and network changes as observed in the visual cortex after focal retinal lesions. In the model, as in the cortex, the turnover of dendritic spines was increased strongest in the center of the lesion projection zone, while axonal boutons displayed a marked overshoot followed by pruning. Moreover, the decrease in external input was compensated for by the formation of new horizontal connections, which caused a retinotopic remapping. Homeostatic regulation may provide a unifying framework for understanding cortical reorganization, including network repair in degenerative diseases or following focal stroke.

Concepts: Neuron, Brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebellum, Synapse, Dendrite, Neurons, Purkinje cell