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In vitro neuronal networks show bidirectional axonal conduction with antidromic action potentials effectively depolarizing the soma

By Jose Mateus, Catia Lopes, Miguel Aroso, Ana Costa, Ana Geros, Antonio Pereira, Joao Meneses, Paula Faria, Estrela Neto, Meriem Lamghari, Monica Sousa, Paulo Aguiar

Posted 08 Mar 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.07.434278

Recent technological advances are revealing the complex physiology of the axon and challenging long-standing assumptions. Namely, while most action potential (AP) initiation occurs at the axon initial segment in central nervous system neurons, initiation in distal parts of the axon has been shown to occur in both physiological and pathological conditions. However, such ectopic action potential (EAP) activity has not been reported yet in studies using in vitro neuronal networks and its functional role, if exists, is still not clear. Here, we report the spontaneous occurrence of EAPs and effective antidromic conduction in hippocampal neuronal cultures. We also observe a significant fraction of bidirection axonal conduction in dorsal root ganglia neuronal cultures. We set out to investigate and characterize this antidromic propagation via a combination of microelectrode arrays, microfluidics, advanced data analysis and in silico studies. We show that EAPs and antidromic conduction can occur spontaneously, and also after distal axotomy or physiological changes in the axon biochemical environment. Importantly, EAPs may carry information (as orthodromic action potentials do) and can have a functional impact on the neuron, as they consistently depolarize the soma. Plasticity or gene transduction mechanisms triggered by soma depolarization can, therefore, be also affected by these antidromic action potentials/EAPs. Finally, we show that this bidirectional axonal conduction is asymmetrical, with antidromic conduction being slower than orthodromic. Via computational modeling, we show that the experimental difference can be explained by axonal morphology. Altogether, these findings have important implications for the study of neuronal function in vitro, reshaping completely our understanding on how information flows in neuronal cultures.

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