Remodelling of synaptic morphology but unchanged synaptic density during late phase long-term potentiation (LTP): a serial section electron micrograph study in the dentate gyrus in the anaesthetised rat

Neuroscience. 2004;128(2):251-62. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2004.06.029.


In anaesthetised rats, long-term potentiation (LTP) was induced unilaterally in the dentate gyrus by tetanic stimulation of the perforant path. Animals were killed 6 h after LTP induction and dendritic spines and synapses in tetanised and untetanised (contralateral) hippocampal tissue from the middle molecular layer (MML) were examined in the electron microscope using stereological analysis. Three-dimensional reconstructions were also used for the first time in LTP studies in vivo, with up to 130 ultrathin serial sections analysed per MML dendritic segment. A volume sampling procedure revealed no significant changes in hippocampal volume after LTP and an unbiased counting method demonstrated no significant changes in synapse density in potentiated compared with control tissue. In the potentiated hemisphere, there were changes in the proportion of different spine types and their synaptic contacts. We found an increase in the percentage of synapses on thin dendritic spines, a decrease in synapses on both stubby spines and dendritic shafts, but no change in the proportion of synapses on mushroom spines. Analysis of three-dimensional reconstructions of thin and mushroom spines following LTP induction revealed a significant increase in their volume and area. We also found an increase in volume and area of unperforated (macular) and perforated (segmented) postsynaptic densities. Our data demonstrate that whilst there is no change in synapse density 6 h after the induction of LTP in vivo, there is a considerable restructuring of pre-existing synapses, with shaft and stubby spines transforming to thin dendritic spines, and mushroom spines changing only in shape and volume.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure
  • Dentate Gyrus / physiology*
  • Dentate Gyrus / ultrastructure*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology*
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*