Axonal trees are typically morphologically and physiologically complicated structures. Because of this complexity, axonal trees show a large repertoire of behavior: from transmission lines with delay, to frequency filtering devices in both temporal and spatial domains. Detailed theoretical exploration of the electrical behavior of realistically complex axonal trees is notably lacking, mainly because of the absence of a simple modeling tool. AXONTREE is an attempt to provide such a simulator. It is written in C for the SUN workstation and implements both a detailed compartmental modeling of Hodgkin and Huxley-like kinetics, and a more abstract, event-driven, modeling approach. The computing module of AXONTREE is introduced together with its input/output features. These features allow graphical construction of arbitrary trees directly on the computer screen, and superimposition of the results on the simulated structure. Several numerical improvements that increase the computational efficiency by a factor of 5–10 are presented; most notable is a novel method of dynamic lumping of the modeled tree into simpler representations ("equivalent cables"). AXONTREE's performance is examined using a reconstructed terminal of an axon from a Y cell in cat visual cortex. It is demonstrated that realistically complicated axonal trees can be handled efficiently. The application of AXONTREE for the study of propagation delays along axonal trees is presented in the companion paper (Manor et al., 1991).
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