Strengthening of synaptic connections following coincident pre and postsynaptic activity was proposed by Hebb as a cellular mechanism for learnings1. Contemporary models assume that multiple synapses must act cooperatively to induce the post-synaptic activity required for hebbian synaptic plasticity2-5. One mechanism for the implementation of this cooperation is action potential firing, which begins in the axon, but which can influence synaptic potentiation following active backpropagation into dendrites6. Backpropagation is limited, however, and action potentials often fail to invade the most distal dendrites7-10. Here we show that long-term potentiation of synapses on the distal dendrites of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons does require cooperative synaptic inputs, but does not require axonal action potential firing and backpropagation. Rather, locally generated and spatially restricted regenerative potentials (dendritic spikes) contribute to the postsynaptic depolarization and calcium entry necessary to trigger potentiation of distal synapses. We find that this mechanism can also function at proximal synapses, suggesting that dendritic spikes participate generally in a form of synaptic potentiation that does not require post-synaptic action potential firing in the axon.
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