Stability of dendritic spines and synaptic contacts is controlled by alpha N-catenin

Nat Neurosci. 2004 Apr;7(4):357-63. doi: 10.1038/nn1212. Epub 2004 Mar 21.


Morphological plasticity of dendritic spines and synapses is thought to be crucial for their physiological functions. Here we show that alpha N-catenin, a linker between cadherin adhesion receptors and the actin cytoskeleton, is essential for stabilizing dendritic spines in rodent hippocampal neurons in culture. In the absence of alpha N-catenin, spine heads were abnormally motile, actively protruding filopodia from their synaptic contact sites. Conversely, alpha N-catenin overexpression in dendrites reduced spine turnover, causing an increase in spine and synapse density. Tetrodotoxin (TTX), a neural activity blocker, suppressed the synaptic accumulation of alpha N-catenin, whereas bicuculline, a GABA antagonist, promoted it. Furthermore, excess alpha N-catenin rendered spines resistant to the TTX treatment. These results suggest that alpha N-catenin is a key regulator for the stability of synaptic contacts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cadherins / physiology
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / physiology*
  • Dendrites / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / physiology*
  • Neurites / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • alpha Catenin


  • Cadherins
  • Ctnna2 protein, mouse
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • alpha Catenin