Dendritic computations captured by an effective point neuron model

Songting Li, Nan Liu, Xiaohui Zhang, David W. McLaughlin, Douglas Zhou, David Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Complex dendrites in general present formidable challenges to understanding neuronal information processing. To circumvent the difficulty, a prevalent viewpoint simplifies the neuronal morphology as a point representing the soma, and the excitatory and inhibitory synaptic currents originated from the dendrites are treated as linearly summed at the soma. Despite its extensive applications, the validity of the synaptic current description remains unclear, and the existing point neuron framework fails to characterize the spatiotemporal aspects of dendritic integration supporting specific computations. Using electrophysiological experiments, realistic neuronal simulations, and theoretical analyses, we demonstrate that the traditional assumption of linear summation of synaptic currents is oversimplified and underestimates the inhibition effect. We then derive a form of synaptic integration current within the point neuron framework to capture dendritic effects. In the derived form, the interaction between each pair of synaptic inputs on the dendrites can be reliably parameterized by a single coefficient, suggesting the inherent low-dimensional structure of dendritic integration. We further generalize the form of synaptic integration current to capture the spatiotemporal interactions among multiple synaptic inputs and show that a point neuron model with the synaptic integration current incorporated possesses the computational ability of a spatial neuron with dendrites, including direction selectivity, coincidence detection, logical operation, and a bilinear dendritic integration rule discovered in experiment. Our work amends the modeling of synaptic inputs and improves the computational power of a modeling neuron within the point neuron framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15244-15252
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
StatePublished - Jul 23 2019


  • Dendritic computation
  • Point neuron model
  • Single-neuron dynamics
  • Synaptic current
  • Synaptic integration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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