We present a comparative analysis of electrotonus in the three classes of principal neurons in rat hippocampus: pyramidal cells of the CA1 and CA3c fields of the hippocampus proper, and granule cells of the dentate gyms. This analysis used the electrotonic transform, which combines anatomic and biophysical data to map neuronal anatomy into electrotonic space, where physical distance between points is replaced by the logarithm of voltage attenuation (log A). The transforms were rendered as 'neuromorphic figures' by redrawing the cell with branch lengths proportional to log A along each branch. We also used plots of log A versus anatomic distance from the soma; these reveal features that are otherwise less apparent and facilitate comparisons between dendritic fields of different cells. Transforms were always larger for voltage spreading toward the soma (V(in)) than away from it (V(out)). Most of the electrotonic length in V(out) transforms was along proximal large diameter branches where signal loss for somatofugal voltage spread is greatest. In V(in) transforms, more of the length was in thin distal branches, indicating a steep voltage gradient for signals propagating toward the soma. All transforms lengthened substantially with increasing frequency. CA1 neurons were electrotonically significantly larger than CA3c neurons. Their V(out) transforms displayed one primary apical dendrite, which bifurcated in some cases, whereas CA3e cell transforms exhibited multiple apical branches. In both cell classes, basilar dendrite V(out) transforms were small, indicating that somatic potentials reached their distal ends with little attenuation. However, for somatopetal voltage spread, attenuation along the basilar and apical dendrites was comparable, so the V(in) transforms of these dendritic fields were nearly equal in extent. Granule cells were physically and electrotonically most compact. Their V(out) transforms at 0 Hz were very small, indicating near isopotentiality at DC and low frequencies. These transforms resembled those of the basilar dendrites of CA1 and CA3c pyramidal cells. This raises the possibility of similar functional or computational roles for these dendritic fields. Interpreting the anatomic distribution of thorny excrescences on CA3 pyramidal neurons with this approach indicates that synaptic currents generated by some mossy fiber inputs may be recorded accurately by a somatic patch clamp, providing that strict criteria on their time course are satisfied. Similar accuracy may not be achievable in somatic recordings of Schaffer collateral synapses onto CA1 pyramidal cells in light of the anatomic and biophysical properties of these neurons and the spatial distribution of synapses.
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