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Frontiers in Neuroscience


Geisel School of Medicine


While extracellular somatic action potentials from freely moving rats have been well characterized, axonal activity has not. We have recently reported extracellular tetrode recordings of short duration waveforms (SDWs) with an average peak-trough duration less than 172μs. These waveforms have significantly shorter duration than somatic action potentials and tend to be triphasic. The present review discusses further data that suggests SDWs are representative of axonal activity, how this characterization allows for more accurate classification of somatic activity and could serve as a means of exploring signal integration in neural circuits. The review also discusses how axons may function as more than neural cables and the implications this may have for axonal information processing. While the technical challenges necessary for the exploration of axonal processes in functional neural circuits during behavior are impressive, preliminary evidence suggests that the in vivo study of axons is attainable. The resulting theoretical implications for systems level function make refinement of this approach a necessary goal toward developing a more complete understanding of the processes underlying learning, memory and attention as well as the pathological states underlying mental illness and epilepsy.