Computer generation and quantitative morphometric analysis of virtual neurons
An important goal in computational neuroanatomy is the complete and accurate simulation of neuronal morphology. We are developing computational tools to model three-dimensional dendritic structures based on sets of stochastic rules. This paper reports an extensive, quantitative anatomical characterization of simulated motoneurons and Purkinje cells. We used several local and global algorithms implemented in the L-Neuron and ArborVitae programs to generate sets of virtual neurons. Parameters statistics for all algorithms were measured from experimental data, thus providing a compact and consistent description of these morphological classes. We compared the emergent anatomical features of each group of virtual neurons with those of the experimental database in order to gain insights on the plausibility of the model assumptions, potential improvements to the algorithms, and non-trivial relations among morphological parameters. Algorithms mainly based on local constraints (e.g., branch diameter) were successful in reproducing many morphological properties of both motoneurons and Purkinje cells (e.g. total length, asymmetry, number of bifurcations). The addition of global constraints (e.g., trophic factors) improved the angle-dependent emergent characteristics (average Euclidean distance from the soma to the dendritic terminations, dendritic spread). Virtual neurons systematically displayed greater anatomical variability than real cells, suggesting the need for additional constraints in the models. For several emergent anatomical properties, a specific algorithm reproduced the experimental statistics better than the others did. However, relative performances were often reversed for different anatomical properties and/or morphological classes. Thus, combining the strengths of alternative generative models could lead to comprehensive algorithms for the complete and accurate simulation of dendritic morphology.
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