Desai-Chowdhry, Paheli; Alexander Brummer and Van Savage

Neurons are connected by complex branching processes - axons and dendrites - that collectively process information for organisms to respond to their environment. Classifying neurons according to differences in structure or function is a fundamental part of neuroscience. Here, by constructing new biophysical theory and testing against our empirical measures of branching structure, we establish a correspondence between neuron structure and function as mediated by principles such as time or power minimization for information processing as well as spatial constraints for forming connections. Specifically, based on these principles, we use undetermined Lagrange multipliers to predict scaling ratios for axon and dendrite sizes across branching levels. We test our predictions for radius and length scale factors against those extracted from neuronal images, measured for cell types and species that range from insects to whales. Notably, our findings reveal that the branching of axons and peripheral nervous system neurons is mainly determined by time minimization, while dendritic branching is mainly determined by power minimization. Further comparison of different dendritic cell types reveals that Purkinje cell dendrite branching is constrained by material costs while motoneuron dendrite branching is constrained by conduction time delay over a range of species. Our model also predicts a quarter-power scaling relationship between conduction time delay and species body size, which is supported by experimental data and may help explain the emergence of hemispheric specialization in larger animals as a means to offset longer time delays.