Spike-associated fast contraction of dendritic spines in cultured hippocampal neurons

Neuron. 2001 Jun;30(3):751-8. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(01)00314-2.


Dendritic spines have long been known to contain contractile elements and have recently been shown to express apparent spontaneous motility. Using high-resolution imaging of dendritic spines of green-fluorescent protein (GFP)-expressing, patch-clamped hippocampal neurons in dissociated culture, we find that bursts of action potentials, evoked by depolarizing current pulses, cause momentary contractions of dendritic spines. Blocking calcium currents with cobalt prevented these twitches. In additional experiments with neurons loaded via a micropipette with calcium-sensitive and insensitive dyes, spontaneous calcium transients were associated with a rapid contraction of the spine head. The spine twitch was prolonged by tetraethylammonium or bicuculline, which enhance calcium transients, and was blocked by the actin polymerization antagonist latrunculin-B. The spine twitch may be instrumental in modulating reactivity of the NMDA receptor to afferent stimulation, following back-propagating action potentials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic / pharmacology
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Hippocampus / cytology*
  • Indicators and Reagents / metabolism
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats
  • Thiazoles / pharmacology
  • Thiazolidines


  • Actins
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic
  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Thiazoles
  • Thiazolidines
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • latrunculin B
  • Calcium