NMDA spikes are prominent in the basal dendrites of cortical pyramidal neurons and greatly expand their ability to integrate synaptic inputs. Calcium (Ca) signals during these spikes are important for synaptic plasticity and fundamentally depend on activation of NMDA receptors. However, the factors that shape the activation of these receptors and the initiation of NMDA spikes remain unclear. Here we examine the properties of NMDA spikes in the basal dendrites of layer 5 pyramidal neurons in the mouse prefrontal cortex. Using two-photon imaging, we demonstrate thatNMDAspikes evoke large Ca signals in both postsynaptic spines and nearby dendrites.Wefind that the dendrite Ca signals depend onNMDAandAMPAreceptors but not sodium (Na) or Ca channels. Using voltage-clamp recordings, we show that activation of dendrite NMDA receptors is enhanced by concerted synaptic activity. Blocking glutamate reuptake further increases activation of these receptors and promotes the initiation of NMDA spikes. We conclude that glutamate spillover and recruitment of extrasynaptic receptors contribute to the initiation ofNMDAspikes. These results have important implications for how synaptic activity generates both electrical and biochemical signals in dendrites and spines.
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