Calcium-based dendritic excitability and its regulation in the deep cerebellar nuclei
The deep cerebellar nuclei (DCN) convey the final output of the cerebellum and are a major site of activity-dependent plasticity. Here, using patch-clamp recording and two-photon calcium imaging in rat brain slices, we demonstrate that DCN dendrites exhibit three hallmarks of active amplification of electrical signals. First, they produce calcium transients with rise times of tens of milliseconds, comparable in amplitude and duration to calcium spikes in other neurons. Second, calcium signal amplitudes are undiminished along the length of dendrites to the farthest distances from the soma. Third, they can generate calcium signals even in the presence of tetrodotoxin, a sodium channel blocker that abolishes somatic action potential initiation. DCN calcium transients do require the action of T-type calcium channels, a common voltage-gated conductance in excitable dendrites. Dendritic calcium influx was evoked by release from hyperpolarization, peaked within tens of milliseconds, and was observed in both transient- and weak-rebound-firing neurons. In a survey across the DCN, transient-burst rebound firing, which was accompanied by the most rapid calcium flux, was more common in lateral nucleus than in interpositus nucleus and was not seen in medial nucleus. Rebound firing and calcium transients were not present in animals shipped 1-3 days before recording, a condition associated with elevated maternal and pup corticosterone and reduced pup body weight. Rebounds could be restored by the protein kinase C activator phorbol 12-myristate-13-acetate. Thus local calcium-based dendritic excitability supports a stage of presomatic amplification that is under regulation by stress and neuromodulatory influence.