Molecular mechanisms of dendritic spine development and remodeling

Prog Neurobiol. 2005 Feb;75(3):161-205. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2005.02.003. Epub 2005 Apr 2.


Dendritic spines are small protrusions that cover the surface of dendrites and bear the postsynaptic component of excitatory synapses. Having an enlarged head connected to the dendrite by a narrow neck, dendritic spines provide a postsynaptic biochemical compartment that separates the synaptic space from the dendritic shaft and allows each spine to function as a partially independent unit. Spines develop around the time of synaptogenesis and are dynamic structures that continue to undergo remodeling over time. Changes in spine morphology and density influence the properties of neural circuits. Our knowledge of the structure and function of dendritic spines has progressed significantly since their discovery over a century ago, but many uncertainties still remain. For example, several different models have been put forth outlining the sequence of events that lead to the genesis of a spine. Although spines are small and apparently simple organelles with a cytoskeleton mainly composed of actin filaments, regulation of their morphology and physiology appears to be quite sophisticated. A multitude of molecules have been implicated in dendritic spine development and remodeling, suggesting that intricate networks of interconnected signaling pathways converge to regulate actin dynamics in spines. This complexity is not surprising, given the likely importance of dendritic spines in higher brain functions. In this review, we discuss the molecules that are currently known to mediate the exquisite sensitivity of spines to perturbations in their environment and we outline how these molecules interface with each other to mediate cascades of signals flowing from the spine surface to the actin cytoskeleton.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dendritic Spines / chemistry*
  • Dendritic Spines / enzymology
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Synapses / chemistry
  • Synapses / enzymology
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synapses / physiology