At the global as well as local scales, some of the geometry of types of neuron arbors—both dendrites and axons—appears to be self-organizing: Their morphogenesis behaves like flowing water, that is, fluid dynamically; waterflow in branching networks in turn acts like a tree composed of cords under tension, that is, vector mechanically. Branch diameters and angles and junction sites conform significantly to this model. The result is that such neuron tree samples globally minimize their total volume—rather than, for example, surface area or branch length. In addition, the arbors perform well at generating the cheapest topology interconnecting their terminals: their large-scale layouts are among the best of all such possible connecting patterns, approaching 5% of optimum. This model also applies comparably to arterial and river networks.
- Received 21 July 1998
©1999 American Physical Society