Probing synaptic function in dendrites with calcium imaging

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Calcium imaging has become a widely used technique to probe neuronal activity on the cellular and subcellular levels. In contrast to standard electrophysiological methods, calcium imaging resolves sub- and suprathreshold activation patterns in structures as small as fine dendritic branches and spines. This review highlights recent findings gained on the subcellular level using calcium imaging, with special emphasis on synaptic transmission and plasticity in individual spines. Since imaging allows monitoring activity across populations of synapses, it has recently been adopted to investigate how dendrites integrate information from many synapses. Future experiments, ideally carried out in vivo, will reveal how the dendritic tree integrates and computes afferent signals. For example, it is now possible to directly test the concept that dendritic inputs are clustered and that single dendrites or dendritic stretches act as independent computational units.

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