The role of negative conductances in neuronal subthreshold properties and synaptic integration

Cesar C. Ceballos, Antonio C. Roque and Ricardo M. Leão

Based on passive cable theory, an increase in membrane conductance produces a decrease in the membrane time constant and input resistance. Unlike the classical leak currents, voltage-dependent currents have a nonlinear behavior which can create regions of negative conductance, despite the increase in membrane conductance (permeability). This negative conductance opposes the effects of the passive membrane conductance on the membrane input resistance and time constant, increasing their values and thereby substantially affecting the amplitude and time course of postsynaptic potentials at the voltage range of the negative conductance. This paradoxical effect has been described for three types of voltage-dependent inward currents: persistent sodium currents, L- and T-type calcium currents and ligand-gated glutamatergic N-methyl-D-aspartate currents. In this review, we describe the impact of the creation of a negative conductance region by these currents on neuronal membrane properties and synaptic integration. We also discuss recent contributions of the quasi-active cable approximation, an extension of the passive cable theory that includes voltage-dependent currents, and its effects on neuronal subthreshold properties.

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