The geometry and electrical properties of a neurone determine how synaptic inputs and endogenously generated currents are integrated and transformed into the signals it transmits to other cells. The dependence of neuronal integration upon dendritic geometry has been studied extensively over the last three decades, both by experimentalists and by theoreticians. We review some of the general principles that have emerged from this work, and summarize recent studies that serve to illustrate these principles. The discussion is organized around the analysis of neuronal structure at three different levels. At the ‘macroscopic’ level, we show how the dendritic branching structure of an identified interneurone in the cricket cercal afferent system determines the directional sensitivity within its receptive field. At the ‘microscopic’ level, we illustrate the dependence of synaptic efficacy upon dendritic length, and demonstrate a very surprising result: that the extension (or ‘growth’) of a dendrite out beyond the point of a synaptic contact can increase the efficacy of that synapse. At the ‘ultrastructural’ level, we show how the structural and electrical properties of dendritic spines might have profound effects upon synaptic integration.

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