To what degree does neuronal morphology determine or correlate with intrinsic electrical properties within a particular class of neuron? This question has been examined using microelectrode recordings and subsequent neurobiotin filling and reconstruction of neurons in the deep cerebellar nuclei (DCN) of brain slices from young rats (P13-16). The neurons reconstructed from these recordings were mostly large and multipolar (17/21 cells) and were likely to represent glutamatergic projection neurons. Within this class, there was considerable variation in intrinsic electrical properties and cellular morphology. Remarkably, in a correlation matrix of 18 electrophysiological and 6 morphological measures, only one morphological characteristic was predictive of intrinsic excitability: neurons with more spines had a significantly slower basal firing rate. To address the possibility that neurons with fewer spines represented a slowly maturing subgroup, recordings and reconstructions were also made from neurons at a younger age (P6-9). While P6-9 neurons were morphologically indistinguishable from P13 to 16 neurons, they were considerably less excitable: P6-9 neurons had a lower spontaneous spiking rate, larger fast AHPs, higher resting membrane potentials, and smaller rebound depolarizations. Thus while the large projection neurons of the DCN are morphologically mature by P6-9, they continue to mature electrophysiologically through P13-16 in a way that renders them more responsive to the burst-and-pause pattern that characterizes Purkinje cell inhibitory synaptic drive.
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