Evidence from Computer Simulations for Alterations in the Membrane Biophysical Properties and Dendritic Processing of Synaptic Inputs in Mutant Superoxide Dismutase-1 Motoneurons

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A critical step in improving our understanding of the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is to identify the factors contributing to the alterations in the excitability of motoneurons and assess their individual contributions. Here we investigated the early alterations in the passive electrical and morphological properties of neonatal spinal motoneurons that occur by 10 d after birth, long before disease onset. We identified some of the factors contributing to these alterations, and estimated their individual contributions. To achieve this goal, we undertook a computer simulation analysis using realistic morphologies of reconstructed wild-type (WT) and mutant superoxide dismutase-1 (mSOD1) motoneurons. Ion channel parameters of these models were then tuned to match the experimental data on electrical properties obtained from these same motoneurons. We found that the reduced excitability ofmSOD1 models was accompanied with decreased specific membrane resistance by ∼25% and efficacy of synaptic inputs (slow and fast) by 12–22%. Linearity of summation of synaptic currents was similar to WT. We also assessed the contribution of the alteration in dendritic morphology alone to this decreased excitability and found that it reduced the input resistance by 10% and the efficacy of synaptic inputs by 7–15%. Our results were also confirmed in models with dendritic active conductances. Our simulations indicated that the alteration in passive electrical properties of mSOD1 models resulted from concurrent alterations in their morphology and membrane biophysical properties, and consequently altered the motoneuronal dendritic processing of synaptic inputs. These results clarify new aspects of spinal motoneurons malfunction in ALS.