Long-term dendritic spine stability in the adult cortex

Nature. 2002 Dec;420(6917):812-6. doi: 10.1038/nature01276.


The structural dynamics of synapses probably has a crucial role in the development and plasticity of the nervous system. In the mammalian brain, the vast majority of excitatory axo-dendritic synapses occur on dendritic specializations called 'spines'. However, little is known about their long-term changes in the intact developing or adult animal. To address this question we developed a transcranial two-photon imaging technique to follow identified spines of layer-5 pyramidal neurons in the primary visual cortex of living transgenic mice expressing yellow fluorescent protein. Here we show that filopodia-like dendritic protrusions, extending and retracting over hours, are abundant in young animals but virtually absent from the adult. In young mice, within the 'critical period' for visual cortex development, approximately 73% of spines remain stable over a one-month interval; most changes are associated with spine elimination. In contrast, in adult mice, the overwhelming majority of spines (approximately 96%) remain stable over the same interval with a half-life greater than 13 months. These results indicate that spines, initially plastic during development, become remarkably stable in the adult, providing a potential structural basis for long-term information storage.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Half-Life
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Pseudopodia / physiology
  • Pyramidal Cells / cytology
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Cortex / cytology*