Human cortical pyramidal neurons: From spines to spikes via models

Guy Eyal, Matthijs B. Verhoog, Guilherme Testa-Silva, Yair Deitcher, Ruth Benavides Piccione, Javier DeFelipe, Christiaan P.J. de Kock, Huibert D. Mansvelder, Idan Segev*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We present detailed models of pyramidal cells from human neocortex, including models on their excitatory synapses, dendritic spines, dendritic NMDA- and somatic/axonal Na+ spikes that provided new insights into signal processing and computational capabilities of these principal cells. Six human layer 2 and layer 3 pyramidal cells (HL2/L3 PCs) were modeled, integrating detailed anatomical and physiological data from both fresh and postmortem tissues from human temporal cortex. The models predicted particularly large AMPA- and NMDA-conductances per synaptic contact (0.88 and 1.31 nS, respectively) and a steep dependence of the NMDA-conductance on voltage. These estimates were based on intracellular recordings from synaptically-connected HL2/L3 pairs, combined with extra-cellular current injections and use of synaptic blockers, and the assumption of five contacts per synaptic connection. A large dataset of high-resolution reconstructed HL2/L3 dendritic spines provided estimates for the EPSPs at the spine head (12.7 ± 4.6 mV), spine base (9.7 ± 5.0 mV), and soma (0.3 ± 0.1 mV), and for the spine neck resistance (50–80 MΩ). Matching the shape and firing pattern of experimental somatic Na+-spikes provided estimates for the density of the somatic/axonal excitable membrane ion channels, predicting that 134 ± 28 simultaneously activated HL2/L3-HL2/L3 synapses are required for generating (with 50% probability) a somatic Na+ spike. Dendritic NMDA spikes were triggered in the model when 20 ± 10 excitatory spinous synapses were simultaneously activated on individual dendritic branches. The particularly large number of basal dendrites in HL2/L3 PCs and the distinctive cable elongation of their terminals imply that ~25 NMDA-spikes could be generated independently and simultaneously in these cells, as compared to ~14 in L2/3 PCs from the rat somatosensory cortex. These multi-sites non-linear signals, together with the large (~30,000) excitatory synapses/cell, equip human L2/L3 PCs with enhanced computational capabilities. Our study provides the most comprehensive model of any human neuron to-date demonstrating the biophysical and computational distinctiveness of human cortical neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Article number181
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalFrontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
Issue numberJune
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2018


  • Compartmental modeling
  • Cortical excitatory synapses
  • Dendritic spines
  • Human pyramidal cells
  • Multi objective optimization
  • Neuron computation
  • Non-linear dendrites


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