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Introduction: Neuronal death and subsequent denervation of target areas are hallmarks of many neurological disorders. Denervated neurons lose part of their dendritic tree, and are considered "atrophic", i.e. pathologically altered and damaged. The functional consequences of this phenomenon are poorly understood.
Results: Using computational modelling of 3D-reconstructed granule cells we show that denervation-induced dendritic atrophy also subserves homeostatic functions: By shortening their dendritic tree, granule cells compensate for the loss of inputs by a precise adjustment of excitability. As a consequence, surviving afferents are able to activate the cells, thereby allowing information to flow again through the denervated area. In addition, action potentials backpropagating from the soma to the synapses are enhanced specifically in reorganized portions of the dendritic arbor, resulting in their increased synaptic plasticity. These two observations generalize to any given dendritic tree undergoing structural changes.
Conclusions: Structural homeostatic plasticity, i.e. homeostatic dendritic remodeling, is operating in long-term denervated neurons to achieve functional homeostasis.

Dendrites form predominantly binary trees that are exquisitely embedded in the networks of the brain. While neuronal computation is known to depend on the morphology of dendrites, their underlying topological blueprint remains unknown. Here, we used a centripetal branch ordering scheme originally developed to describe river networks—the Horton-Strahler order (SO)–to examine hierarchical relationships of branching statistics in reconstructed and model dendritic trees. We report on a number of universal topological relationships with SO that are true for all binary trees and distinguish those from SO-sorted metric measures that appear to be cell type-specific. The latter are therefore potential new candidates for categorising dendritic tree structures. Interestingly, we find a faithful correlation of branch diameters with centripetal branch orders, indicating a possible functional importance of SO for dendritic morphology and growth. Also, simulated local voltage responses to synaptic inputs are strongly correlated with SO. In summary, our study identifies important SO-dependent measures in dendritic morphology that are relevant for neural function while at the same time it describes other relationships that are universal for all dendrites.

The true revolution in the age of digital neuroanatomy is the ability to extensively quantify anatomical structures and thus investigate structure-function relationships in great detail. Large-scale projects were recently launched with the aim of providing infrastructure for brain simulations. These projects will increase the need for a precise understanding of brain structure, e.g., through statistical analysis and models.
From articles in this Research Topic, we identify three main themes that clearly illustrate how new quantitative approaches are helping advance our understanding of neural structure and function. First, new approaches to reconstruct neurons and circuits from empirical data are aiding neuroanatomical mapping. Second, methods are introduced to improve understanding of the underlying principles of organization. Third, by combining existing knowledge from lower levels of organization, models can be used to make testable predictions about a higher-level organization where knowledge is absent or poor. This latter approach is useful for examining statistical properties of specific network connectivity when current experimental methods have not yet been able to fully reconstruct whole circuits of more than a few hundred neurons.

Leaky integrate-and-fire (LIF) network models are commonly used to study how the spiking dynamics of neural networks changes with stimuli, tasks or dynamic network states. However, neurophysiological studies in vivo often rather measure the mass activity of neuronal microcircuits with the local field potential (LFP). Given that LFPs are generated by spatially separated currents across the neuronal membrane, they cannot be computed directly from quantities defined in models of point-like LIF neurons. Here, we explore the best approximation for predicting the LFP based on standard output from point-neuron LIF networks. To search for this best “LFP proxy”, we compared LFP predictions from candidate proxies based on LIF network output (e.g, firing rates, membrane potentials, synaptic currents) with “ground-truth” LFP obtained when the LIF network synaptic input currents were injected into an analogous three-dimensional (3D) network model of multi-compartmental neurons with realistic morphology, spatial distributions of somata and synapses. We found that a specific fixed linear combination of the LIF synaptic currents provided an accurate LFP proxy, accounting for most of the variance of the LFP time course observed in the 3D network for all recording locations. This proxy performed well over a broad set of conditions, including substantial variations of the neuronal morphologies. Our results provide a simple formula for estimating the time course of the LFP from LIF network simulations in cases where a single pyramidal population dominates the LFP generation, and thereby facilitate quantitative comparison between computational models and experimental LFP recordings in vivo.

Dendrite morphology, a neuron's anatomical fingerprint, is a neuroscientist's asset in unveiling organizational principles in the brain. However, the genetic program encoding the morphological identity of a single dendrite remains a mystery. In order to obtain a formal understanding of dendritic branching, we studied distributions of morphological parameters in a group of four individually identifiable neurons of the fly visual system. We found that parameters relating to the branching topology were similar throughout all cells. Only parameters relating to the area covered by the dendrite were cell type specific. With these areas, artificial dendrites were grown based on optimization principles minimizing the amount of wiring and maximizing synaptic democracy. Although the same branching rule was used for all cells, this yielded dendritic structures virtually indistinguishable from their real counterparts. From these principles we derived a fully-automated model-based neuron reconstruction procedure validating the artificial branching rule. In conclusion, we suggest that the genetic program implementing neuronal branching could be constant in all cells whereas the one responsible for the dendrite spanning field should be cell specific.

Important brain functions need to be conserved throughout organisms of extremely varying sizes. Here we study the scaling properties of an essential component of computation in the brain: the single neuron. We compare morphology and signal propagation of a uniquely identifiable interneuron, the HS cell, in the blowfly (Calliphora) with its exact counterpart in the fruit fly (Drosophila) which is about four times smaller in each dimension. Anatomical features of the HS cell scale isometrically and minimise wiring costs but, by themselves, do not scale to preserve the electrotonic behaviour. However, the membrane properties are set to conserve dendritic as well as axonal delays and attenuation as well as dendritic integration of visual information. In conclusion, the electrotonic structure of a neuron, the HS cell in this case, is surprisingly stable over a wide range of morphological scales.

Abstract: Integration of synaptic currents across an extensive dendritic tree is a prerequisite for computation in the brain. Dendritic tapering away from the soma has been suggested to both equalise contributions from synapses at different locations and maximise the current transfer to the soma. To find out how this is achieved precisely, an analytical solution for the current transfer in dendrites with arbitrary taper is required. We derive here an asymptotic approximation that accurately matches results from numerical simulations. From this we then determine the diameter profile that maximises the current transfer to the soma. We find a simple quadratic form that matches diameters obtained experimentally, indicating a fundamental architectural principle of the brain that links dendritic diameters to signal transmission.
Author Summary: Neurons take a great variety of shapes that allow them to perform their different computational roles across the brain. The most distinctive visible feature of many neurons is the extensively branched network of cable-like projections that make up their dendritic tree. A neuron receives current-inducing synaptic contacts from other cells across its dendritic tree. As in the case of botanical trees, dendritic trees are strongly tapered towards their tips. This tapering has previously been shown to offer a number of advantages over a constant width, both in terms of reduced energy requirements and the robust integration of inputs at different locations. However, in order to predict the computations that neurons perform, analytical solutions for the flow of input currents tend to assume constant dendritic diameters. Here we introduce an asymptotic approximation that accurately models the current transfer in dendritic trees with arbitrary, continuously changing, diameters. When we then determine the diameter profiles that maximise current transfer towards the cell body we find diameters similar to those observed in real neurons. We conclude that the tapering in dendritic trees to optimise signal transmission is a fundamental architectural principle of the brain.

Neurons collect their inputs from other neurons by sending out arborized dendritic structures. However, the relationship between the shape of dendrites and the precise organization of synaptic inputs in the neural tissue remains unclear. Inputs could be distributed in tight clusters, entirely randomly or else in a regular grid-like manner. Here, we analyze dendritic branching structures using a regularity index R, based on average nearest neighbor distances between branch and termination points, characterizing their spatial distribution. We find that the distributions of these points depend strongly on cell types, indicating possible fundamental differences in synaptic input organization. Moreover, R is independent of cell size and we find that it is only weakly correlated with other branching statistics, suggesting that it might reflect features of dendritic morphology that are not captured by commonly studied branching statistics. We then use morphological models based on optimal wiring principles to study the relation between input distributions and dendritic branching structures. Using our models, we find that branch point distributions correlate more closely with the input distributions while termination points in dendrites are generally spread out more randomly with a close to uniform distribution. We validate these model predictions with connectome data. Finally, we find that in spatial input distributions with increasing regularity, characteristic scaling relationships between branching features are altered significantly. In summary, we conclude that local statistics of input distributions and dendrite morphology depend on each other leading to potentially cell type specific branching features.

Compartmental models are the theoretical tool of choice for understanding single neuron computations. However, many models are incomplete, built ad hoc and require tuning for each novel condition rendering them of limited usability. Here, we present T2N, a powerful interface to control NEURON with Matlab and TREES toolbox, which supports generating models stable over a broad range of reconstructed and synthetic morphologies. We illustrate this for a novel, highly detailed active model of dentate granule cells (GCs) replicating a wide palette of experiments from various labs. By implementing known differences in ion channel composition and morphology, our model reproduces data from mouse or rat, mature or adult-born GCs as well as pharmacological interventions and epileptic conditions. This work sets a new benchmark for detailed compartmental modeling. T2N is suitable for creating robust models useful for large-scale networks that could lead to novel predictions. We discuss possible T2N application in degeneracy studies.

Much is known about the computation in individual neurons in the cortical column. Also, the selective connectivity between many cortical neuron types has been studied in great detail. However, due to the complexity of this microcircuitry its functional role within the cortical column remains a mystery. Some of the wiring behavior between neurons can be interpreted directly from their particular dendritic and axonal shapes. Here, I describe the dendritic density field (DDF) as one key element that remains to be better understood. I sketch an approach to relate DDFs in general to their underlying potential connectivity schemes. As an example, I show how the characteristic shape of a cortical pyramidal cell appears as a direct consequence of connecting inputs arranged in two separate parallel layers.