Structure and function of dendritic spines

Annu Rev Physiol. 2002;64:313-53. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.64.081501.160008.


Spines are neuronal protrusions, each of which receives input typically from one excitatory synapse. They contain neurotransmitter receptors, organelles, and signaling systems essential for synaptic function and plasticity. Numerous brain disorders are associated with abnormal dendritic spines. Spine formation, plasticity, and maintenance depend on synaptic activity and can be modulated by sensory experience. Studies of compartmentalization have shown that spines serve primarily as biochemical, rather than electrical, compartments. In particular, recent work has highlighted that spines are highly specialized compartments for rapid large-amplitude Ca(2+) signals underlying the induction of synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium Channels / physiology
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / physiology


  • Calcium Channels
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate