The effect of excitatory synaptic input on the excitation of the cell body is believed to vary depending on where and when the synaptic activation occurs in dendritic trees and the spatiotemporal modulation by inhibitory synaptic input. However, few studies have examined how individual synaptic inputs influence the excitability of the cell body in spontaneously active neuronal networks mainly because of the lack of an appropriate method. We developed a calcium imaging technique that monitors synaptic inputs to hundreds of spines from a single neuron with millisecond resolution in combination with whole-cell patch-clamp recordings of somatic excitation. In rat hippocampal CA3 pyramidal neurons ex vivo, a fraction of the excitatory synaptic inputs were not detectable in the cell body against background noise. These synaptic inputs partially restored their somatic impact when a GABAA receptor blocker was intracellularly perfused. Thus, GABAergic inhibition reduces the influence of some excitatory synaptic inputs on the somatic excitability. Numerical simulation using a single neuron model demonstrates that the timing and locus of a dendritic GABAergic input are critical to exert this effect. Moreover, logistic regression analyses suggest that the GABAergic inputs sectionalize spine activity; that is, only some subsets of synchronous synaptic activity seemed to be preferably passed to the cell body. Thus, dendrites actively sift inputs from specific presynaptic cell assemblies.
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