“How neurons ‘count’ their eggs: intrinsic and cell-type specific properties of pyramidal neurons that shape the input-output computations they perform”
Nikolai Dembrow, Ph.D.
University of Washington
It has long been appreciated since the seminal work of Ramon y Cajal that neurons fall into distinct categories based upon their morphology. Over the last few decades, we have come to learn that this is also true for the complement and distribution of ion channels a neuron expresses. The combination of morphology and ion channel expression makes a neurons’ intrinsic electrophysiological properties and shape how they transform synaptic input into spiking output.
These intrinsic properties do not fall into a ‘one size fits all’ category, but rather can be separated into distinct neuron types. With advances in single-cell sequencing of expressed genes and the ability to target and selectively manipulate these various neuron types, it has become evident that neuron types have separable functional contributions to network activity and even behavior. A key feature of pyramidal neurons across many species is their extensively branched processes called dendrites that receive thousands of excitatory synaptic contacts. Although all pyramidal neurons have dendritic arbors, the pattern and distribution of these structures can vary greatly depending upon cell type, brain region and species. Dendrites are critical for understanding the computations neuron types perform. My long-term research goal is to provide meaningful insights in how the intrinsic dendritic properties of the different neuron types contribute to functional (and sometimes tragically dysfunctional) network activity in health and disease.